How do I get theft charges dropped?

There are many variables that determine your chances of having a theft charge dropped. The circumstances of the crime are of key importance, especially the value of the items stolen and whether you have a criminal record. In every case, I sit down with clients and hear their story about the alleged crime, before suggesting the best way to proceed.

It helps if this is your first offence

There is a good chance I will be able to negotiate with the Crown to have minor theft charges dropped if this is your first offence. A clean criminal record gives your lawyer additional negotiating power as I can argue this was an isolated incident that is not indicative of your character. If this is your second or third offence, the prosecutor will be seeking jail time, even with thefts of small value.

Enroll in a rehabilitative program

If you stole from a retail store and the goods were retrieved or you compensated the owner for the loss, there is a good chance I can convince the Crown that a just punishment would be to have you have to enrol in an anti-theft program. Upon completion of the program, the charges could be withdrawn. However, if you stole something of a high value and the property was not recovered, this defence may not be available to you. However, there are other options to avoid jail time.

For example, alternative measures programs may require you to pay restitution to the victim and to complete community service or other conditions stipulated by the program.

Repaying the cost of the theft helps

I represented a client who stole close to $5,000 worth of golf clubs and related items from the sporting goods store where he worked, which he then resold online. He was remorseful for his actions and repaid the store fully for the items. He was also able to gather many character references from community members who said this criminal behaviour was completely out of character for him. When the case was being adjudicated, he was enrolled in school and working part-time at another job. The court gave him a conditional discharge, recognizing his effort to make amends and his commitment not to steal again.

I had another client who went into a home that was under construction and took a furnace worth less than $5,000. After he was caught he lost his job. He found new employment and was able to pay for the full value of the furnace. He was also able to gather many character references from community members. Based on his contrition, repayment and character references, the Crown withdrew the theft charges against him.

Thefts feed addictions

Many people are unable to live a crime-free life because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol and they need to steal to support their habit. When they are arrested for theft, no matter how minor, they are sent to jail for a short term.

One of my clients was charged with theft over $5,000. He worked in a store and was responsible for bringing the company’s money to the bank at the end of his shift. The missing funds soon became apparent to his employer and he was charged for stealing approximately $13,000.

He told police he was addicted to gambling and he stole the money to pay off his debts. He said he felt he had little choice, as he feared for the safety of his family if the debts were not paid to the loan shark who had lent him the money.

He admitted the theft was an act of desperation, and he had the support of family and friends when the crime was revealed. The man enrolled in addiction counselling and repaid all the money owing, even though that required him to sell his car. He literally did everything possible to pay back the money and make amends, as he wanted to show the court he was a changed man and that he recognized the seriousness of his actions.

When the case began, the Crown was seeking a jail sentence but they agreed to a conditional sentence to be served at home. I argued my client deserved an absolute discharge and the court accepted my suggestion. His criminal record was erased.

What does the Crown have to prove?

Section 322 of the Criminal Code states that it is illegal to “fraudulently and without colour of right” (the honest belief that an act is justified) take someone’s property. The maximum punishment for theft over $5,000 is 10 years.

To win a conviction, the Crown prosecutor must prove that you intended to steal the item in question. For example, if you are charged with theft from a retail store, the Crown must prove that you purposely took the item with the intention of not paying.

Section 334 of the Code divides theft into two charges based on the value of the item stolen. Theft over $5,000 is usually treated as an indictable offence, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, with lesser penalties given if the charge is treated as a summary conviction.

If you are charged with theft under $5,000 and the prosecutor proceeds with it as an indictable offence, the maximum penalty is two years less a day in jail, or less if treated as a summary conviction.

Conditional discharge follows $1,633.26 theft

As this Supreme Court of British Columbia judgment shows, a woman found guilty of theft under $5,000 was granted a conditional discharge for a crime that carries a maximum penalty of two years less a day.

Court documents show that she stole $1,633.26 worth of jewelry and money from her employer, a jewelry store. The judge had harsh words for her, the judgment reads, as he noted that she has been “thieving from the family you worked shoulder to shoulder with during the period of employment. Effectively, you bit the hand that fed you.”

In agreeing to give her a conditional sentence instead of jail time, the judge noted that the woman offered to plead guilty early in the investigation and that she has compensated the store owner for what she stole.

“You have had a difficult period in your life. The stress of a marital break-up and the death of your daughter have resulted in a diagnosis of depression for which you were undergoing treatment at the time of these offences,” the judgment reads. “That said, each of our lives takes unexpected turns that may at times require patience, forbearance, endurance, and good judgment … thieving from these hard-working people who trusted you is wrong and must not be repeated.”

The discharge he gave her was conditional on her completing a 18-month probation where she must “keep the peace and be of good behaviour,” court documents note.

Theft charges dropped after armoured truck crash

The owner of a trucking business driving from Fort McMurray to Edmonton came across a nasty crash on an icy section of the highway after an armoured vehicle collided head-on with a pickup truck, killing both drivers, according to a news report. The man and others stopped to help, after which he spotted a large bundle of money wrapped in plastic. Thinking someone might try to steal it, he picked it up and put it in the back seat of his truck. He then drove to the nearest RCMP detachment and handed over the money, the report states, adding “the cash was counted at $130,000.”

Three days later, the man was arrested, according to the news report, and charged with theft and possession of stolen property. Those charges were withdrawn at the beginning of a preliminary hearing.

"I should have been charged with stupidity for trying to do the right thing," the man is quoted as saying.

Why you need my assistance

The penalty for theft can range from a fine to prison time, depending on what was stolen and other factors. If you have been charged with theft, book a free consultation with me to discuss your case. It may not be possible to have the charges dropped but we can explore options to avoid time in jail. 

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