Theft and Probable Cause

Theft is a crime under Colorado statute. Probable cause is the legal standard for law enforcement to justify an arrest, conduct a search, or receive a warrant. If these actions were taken without probable cause before your arrest for theft, at the very least, the evidence against you should be suppressed and not used at trial. Depending on the circumstances, your charges should be dismissed by the court. 

What is Theft? 

Under Colorado law, theft happens when you knowingly obtain, retain, or exercise control over anything of value owned by another without authorization by threat or deception. It also includes receiving or disposing of anything of value owned by another that you know or believe was stolen or loaning money by pawn, and you: 

  • Intend to deprive the other person of its use or benefit 
  • Knowingly use, conceal, or abandon the thing to deprive the owner of its use or benefit 
  • Use, conceal, or abandon the thing so the owner will lose its use or benefit 
  • Demand something of value you’re not legally entitled to before returning it to the owner, or 
  • Knowingly keep the thing more than 72 hours after the agreed-upon time of return in a lease or hire agreement 

What is Probable Cause? 

The U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment states: 

  • Citizens have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures 
  • Probable cause is needed before a court can issue a search warrant.  

An officer must have probable cause in order to make an arrest or to search and seize property without a warrant. Colorado statute also requires probable cause before an arrest. 

The Fourth Amendment doesn’t define probable cause, but the U.S. Supreme Court stated it exists when: 

The facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge and of which they have reasonably trustworthy information are sufficient to warrant a belief by a man of reasonable caution that a crime is being, or was, committed by the person in question.

What Would Probable Cause Be in a Theft Case? 

Theft can occur in many ways. There would be probable cause to arrest you if you’re in a department store and a store security officer sees you, or you’re recorded on surveillance cameras: 

  • Choosing an item off a display 
  • Putting it in your pocket 
  • Walking past cashiers without paying for it  
  • Leaving the store 

The store security officer stops you, and you remove the item from your pocket. You have no receipt to show you paid for it. Police officers arrive, and store security tells them what happened. They later provide the police with security video. 

Get the Help You Need From an Attorney You Can Trust 

Kevin Churchill represents clients charged with all types of theft, whether it’s a shoplifting case or an embezzlement case by a company executive. If you are under investigation for theft or have already been arrested, call our Denver office at (303) 832‑9000 for a consultation.

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