Can I be charged with petty theft if I had no idea it was happening?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can I be charged with petty theft if I had no idea it was happening?

I went into a store with my boyfriend and his mother. She gave us items to carry out to the car. I figured she paid, so I took them but she hadn’t paid.

Asked on June 7, 2017 under Criminal Law, Virginia


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

You can be charged if there are reasonable grounds (e.g. more likely than not) to think that you were intentionally involved--e.g. helping your boyfriend's mother steal. The fact that you were carrying the stolen items and the evident thief was your boyfriend's mother (someone you might reasonably collaborate with) would provide such grounds.
To ultimately convict you, they'd  have to prove your involvement by "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is much higher standard. So long as your boyfriend and his mother do not implicate you, the authorities should not be able to do that; and indeed, if they admit right away you were not involved, even if you were charged, the charges would likely be dismissed. Where you could get into trouble would be if your boyfriend and mother are charged and look to blame you; if they both say you were the thief (which is plausible since you were carrying the goods), their testimony could be enough to convict you.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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