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Criminal defense strategy in Alabama theft cases

An arrest based upon allegations of criminal wrongdoing is not the equivalent of a criminal conviction. Prosecutors must present evidence at the criminal trial to prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt to obtain a criminal conviction. For example, taking property that belongs to another person might not be a crime if the defendant intended to return it to its owner.

Laws that criminalize conduct must be written clearly so that the general public and the police know what is or is not prohibited behavior. If prosecutors fail to prove each element of the crime as written in the statute, they might not obtain a criminal conviction.

The criminal charge of theft includes prohibited conduct and intent. The two elements of a theft crime are the following: The taking of property belonging to another person, and the intent not to return it to its owner. Prosecutors might have sufficient evidence to prove that a person took something that belonged to someone else, but unless they have evidence to prove intent to deprive the owner of the property, prosecutors might not be able to obtain a conviction.

Besides evaluating strength of the evidence against the defendant, another factor in determining whether to take a theft case to trial might be the severity of the penalties a judge may impose at sentencing. Theft charges usually increase in their degree of severity as the value of the property taken increases. Charges could increase from a misdemeanor to a felony for no other reason than an item’s value.

Depending upon the circumstances of the case, a criminal defense strategy might be to threaten to take a case to trial in the hope of encouraging a plea negotiation with prosecutors. The result might be an offer to reduce the charges or a promise of a lighter sentence.

Source: Findlaw, “Criminal Charges“, September 12, 2014