When does borrowing become stealing?

Almost everyone borrows something from a friend or family member and forgets to return it at some point. It could be a gaming console, designer bag or kitchen appliance. It’s a simple and honest mistake that happens when life gets in the way. While it’s rude not to return borrowed property, doing so is not stealing. But you could be committing theft if you don’t plan on returning it.

Your intent plays a role

The crime of theft requires specific intent to deprive another person of their property permanently. An individual who honestly forgot to return borrowed property lacks the intent to steal. As long as you obtain permission and mean to return what you borrow, you are not stealing.

Here are some scenarios where borrowing may constitute stealing:

  • Not acquiring permission from the owner: Perhaps you “borrowed” a friend’s gold necklace because they rarely wear it, and you assume they won’t notice. If they find out, they could call the police and accuse you of stealing from them.
  • Informing others that you plan to keep the item: Joking around with your friends via text or social media that you plan to keep a borrowed property could count as intent to steal.
  • Attempting to sell the borrowed property: Trying to profit off a borrowed item could show that you had no intentions of returning it and may result in a theft charge.

Intent in criminal cases can play a part in determining whether a person is guilty or not. However, the prosecution must provide hard evidence that you planned on keeping the item to convict you of theft.

Crossing the line from borrowing to stealing

There are instances when people covet what isn’t theirs. By borrowing, they can enjoy those things without spending on them. However, the experience of using it could tempt a person not to give it back.

If you face theft charges, the prosecution will need strong evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you intentionally kept borrowed property. Text messages or social media posts stating your plan to keep a lent item could serve as evidence of theft.

After borrowing an object, it’s best to return it as soon as possible. Unless the owner expressly says that you can keep it, failing to return it could jeopardize your relationship with them and, worse, land you with theft charges. Even if you return a stolen item, you may still face legal repercussions.

Attorney Brad Hawley

Attorney Brad HawleyAttorney Brad Hawley possesses years of practical experience focused on bankruptcy, civil and criminal defense. He has prosecuted and defended clients in state court, and is a former enlisted member of the United States Army. Brad is driven by his desire to help people that have been hurt by the legal system, and is dedicated to fixing injustices he sees around him. [ Attorney Bio ]

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