Is it larceny if I take something as a practical joke?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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A person commits the crime of larceny or theft if he takes property with the intent of depriving the owner of the property. A key element that must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to convict an offender of larceny is to demonstrate that he had the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property. When this element cannot be satisfactorily established beyond a reasonable doubt by the evidence, an offender cannot be convicted of larceny.

If you take another person’s property as a practical joke, it can be argued that in doing so you lacked the specific intent necessary for a larceny conviction. Since you took the property as a joke, clearly you planned to return the property and not to deprive its owner of it permanently. Whether you had the requisite specific intent to commit the crime of larceny because you were going to return the property, is a question of fact for the fact finder, whether it is a judge or a jury.

Depending on the circumstances under which the “practical joke” was uncovered, you could have a hard time convincing anyone that you lacked the requisite intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently. If the “theft” was reported to the police before you had a chance to return the property, you may not be able to successfully argue that you intended to return the property.

Playing practical jokes could have serious, even if unintended, consequences. If you are convicted of larceny as a felony or misdemeanor, the consequences you could face include jail time, a criminal record, payment of restitution and the inability to find employment or enroll in college. A conviction for any type of crime could have an impact on your quality of life and future earnings capacity which mayl haunt you for the rest of your life. Playing a practical joke that could lead to a larceny charge is never a good idea.  You should speak with a criminal attorney if you have been charged with larceny.

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