Theft crimes in Minnesota encompass a broad variety and extent of offenses, ranging from shoplifting petty merchandise to stealing cars or embezzling millions of dollars in corporate funds. The severity of sentencing depends upon the crime, but theft convictions leave a permanent criminal record that can compromise employment, housing, licensing, loans, and more.
If you have been accused of a theft crime, it is imperative that you seek skilled legal representation as early as possible in order to make sure that your rights are protected. An experienced Minnesota theft attorney can ensure that you are treated fairly during the investigation, and can build the best possible defense should your case go to trial.
Claim of right of ownership of property
Under the law, if a defendant has been accused of stealing property, it may be possible to claim that they believed that the property was his or her own, or that he or she had a valid claim to it. If the defendant obtained the property under a perceived claim of right, then he or she did not have the intent required for a theft or robbery conviction. This is known as a claim-of-right defense.
The defendant may hold this belief in good faith even if it is mistaken or unreasonable. However, if there is evidence that the defendant was aware of facts that made this belief unreasonable, it cannot be held in good faith.
Additionally, if the defendant attempted to conceal taking the item at the time of the offense or after it was acquired, this defense does not apply.
Lack of proof
In order to be convicted of theft in Minnesota, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. A common lack of proof defense for robbery, burglary, larceny, or auto theft charges is lack of presence.
Literally, that means that the defendant was not present. This is important, because the prosecutor must prove that the defendant was present when the crime was committed through surveillance footage, witness statements, detainment of the defendant, or some other means.
Importantly, the defendant does not need to prove an alibi for a lack of presence defense. If the jury has reasonable doubt that the defendant was present at the crime scene, they may find the defendant not guilty.
Though rare, if the defendant was intoxicated at the time of theft by alcohol, drugs, or some other chemical, it may be possible to use an intoxication defense. If the defendant was sufficiently intoxicated to be unable to form the intent to steal (for example, they mistakenly thought that the item belonged to them), an intoxication defense may be viable.
Intoxication defenses may also be used to reduce the severity of some theft charges, for example property crimes such as robbery and burglary.
Entrapment or duress
The defense of entrapment can be applied when an individual commits a crime, but was induced to do so by a third party in order to prosecute the target. In a theft case, the entrapment defense could apply if the idea or intent to steal came from an entrapping person, who lured the defendant into committing the theft.
If the defendant committed the crime under the threat or actual use of physical force from a third party, a duress defense can be made. To make a duress defense, there must be proof of a sufficient threat that would cause a reasonable person to commit a crime.
About the Author:
Christopher Keyser is a Minneapolis-based criminal and DWI defense attorney known for fighting aggressively for his clients and utilizing innovative tactics to get the most positive results. He has been featured in numerous media outlets due to the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and recognized as a Minnesota Super Lawyers Rising Star (2014–2015), a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013–2015), and a Top 40 Under 40 Attorney (2013–2015).