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I am a teacher in Florida and I confiscated an item from a student who willingly gave it to me. When I was busy working, the student took the item back without my consent. Is this considered theft of property? Can a police report be filed?

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  • Please ask your school's counsellor. If anything, it would be a disruption of classes, but confiscated items do not change ownership.
    – Trish
    Commented May 16 at 15:13

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It's not theft. Theft requires an intent to permanently deprive the owner of their property (incidentally, the temporary nature of confiscation is the reason why the teacher hasn't committed theft either). It is not possible to steal an item that you own, and confiscated items do not change ownership - it is impossible for a student to steal their own property. Retaking property that's legally yours is not theft, although it would be possible to commit other crimes in the process like breaking and entering or trespassing. There may be legal differences if the student simply took the item off your desk, versus breaking into a locked drawer to recover it, but it won't be theft either way.

See also: If someone steals something of mine, is it legal to steal it back?

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    Isn't the voluntary nature also a reason why the confiscation isn't theft? Or is this not really considered truly voluntary because the teacher is in a position of authority?
    – Barmar
    Commented May 16 at 19:52
  • @Barmar I imagine there would be an element of coercion in most cases. Sort of like how a mugger is still committing theft if they say "give me your wallet" and you do so without a fight. Even if the student were indeed to volunteer the item without even being asked, it's unlikely they'd be intending to permanently gift it to the teacher. If a student gives a teacher their phone because they know they'll be distracted, the teacher would still be stealing it if they just kept it forever. Commented May 16 at 20:27
  • @Barmar As another example, if you pick up a wallet on the ground with the intent to return it to the owner, it's not stealing, despite the fact that the owner never intended for you to have it. It would be possible to possess property that you were never supposed to have without stealing it, and also possible to steal property that someone gave to you willingly (albeit temporarily). Commented May 16 at 20:29
  • I was actually thinking about the difference between a mugger and a teacher when I wrote my comment. It sure seems like there should be a distinction when a threat of physical danger is involved.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 16 at 20:34
  • Would that danger have to be physical? A student could reasonably fear all kind of disadvantages if they don’t hand over the item.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 17 at 23:12
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When I was busy working, the student took the item back without my consent, is this considered theft of property by student in legal terms?

No.

It isn't even a crime, since the student owns it, or at least, has better title to it than the teacher. It may be a violation of a school rule, however, which the child could be punished for violating, for example, with detention or a loss of some school privilege like the opportunity to go on a field trip or participate in a school function like a dance.

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