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Theft defenses: What if I returned the stolen property?

Theft is theft, and if a Wisconsin resident gets accused of stealing property, it doesn't matter if he or she returns the property after stealing it. The individual who took the property can still get convicted of a theft-related crime. That said, the voluntary return of the property could result in the court being more sympathetic, and it could result in a lessening of the punishments associated with conviction.

Still, many Wisconsin defendants do not fully understand the law as it applies to stolen items that were voluntarily returned later. Imagine, for example, that someone steals a bicycle out of another person's garage. The victim calls police, who come and investigate the crime scene. The next day, the alleged thief comes back to the house to return the property voluntarily, at which time, police arrest the person.

Unfortunately, the return of the property will not serve as a defense against the theft charges. However, having returned the property could help the accused person to negotiate a plea bargain with prosecutors. A sympathetic judge may even allow the defendant to forego the severest of punishments -- like jail time -- and have him or her perform community service or other penances instead.

If the defendant was merely borrowing the property, on the other hand, the return of the property could serve to support this stance. It is not uncommon for defendants to claim that they were merely borrowing a specific piece of property in order to defend against such charges. Alternatively, maybe the defendant borrowed the property and was accused of theft after forgetting to return it.

If you have been accused of theft crimes in Wisconsin, you will have the right to a criminal defense. With the assistance of a qualified criminal defense lawyer, you can navigate your criminal proceedings in the most suitable fashion given your circumstances.

Source: FindLaw, "Theft defenses," accessed Sep. 14, 2017

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