So I was thinking, if I rode a coworkers bike home and returned it early the next morning before he noticed, is that legally considered stealing?

Would this be legally considered stealing in CA?

  • 4
    Not an answer, just an aspect from the continent. In Germany it would be called "furtum usus" (theft for the purpose of use). In principle that is not punishable (but still forbidden as a civil infringement). The devil is, of course, in the application. People caught taking something have a notoriously hard time proving their intent to bring it back, whether they actually had it or not; and circumstantial evidence is usually too overwhelming for in dubio pro reo. Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 11:58
  • I know it's just an example, but I have a hard time imagining how your coworker wouldn't notice his bike was missing. Will he be working overtime, all night?
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 14:19
  • Related question.
    – feetwet
    Commented Nov 5, 2015 at 4:35
  • 1
    @Peter A. Schneider Wouldn´t leaving a Note: ... took your bike, will return it tomorrow ... cover you?
    – Daniel
    Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 9:00
  • 1
    @Daniel It could still be a lie ;-). But I assume it would be circumstantial evidence, in particular if you do. Commented Sep 6, 2018 at 12:26

3 Answers 3


It wouldn't quite be theft; California theft, like theft in many places following English legal tradition, requires intent to permanently deprive the owner of property. However, it fits section 499b of the Penal Code to a T:

499b. (a) Any person who shall, without the permission of the owner thereof, take any bicycle for the purpose of temporarily using or operating the same, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding four hundred dollars ($400), or by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding three months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.

  • 2
    @Mowzer then we go back to the first sentence, unless someone can find a specific crime for any of those vehicles. But unicycles and tricycles appear to be bicycles in the eyes of the law: "A “bicycle” is a device upon which any person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears, and having one or more wheels." (dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/pubs/vctop/vc/d1/231)
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 7:19
  • 3
    @phoog A unicycle does not typically have a belt, chain, or gears: the pedals are connected directly to the wheel.
    – Max
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 9:55
  • 1
    @Max that is true. I suspect this is a fault in the definition, which seems to have intended to include unicycles, since it specifies "one or more wheels." I wonder if there is any case law on this question.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 16:49
  • 2
    tall unicycles have chains, but short ones don't. I would think a judge would become very annoyed at such a quibble, and decide that a unicycle was indeed intended. The various clauses of the description are intended to expand the definition, not narrow it.
    – dwoz
    Commented Nov 3, 2015 at 18:34
  • 1
    @Richard Neither of those things makes it theft. You have temporarily deprived the owner of their enjoyment of the bike, which is not theft in California. Wear and tear is simply unrelated to theft. You can read criminal jury instructions if you'd like, but temporary taking is not theft unless you take it "for so extended a period of time that the owner would be deprived of a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property."
    – cpast
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 1:02

In the UK this is covered by Taking without consent which reads:

12 Taking motor vehicle or other conveyance without authority.

(1)Subject to subsections (5) and (6) below, a person shall be guilty of an offence if, without having the consent of the owner or other lawful authority, he takes any conveyance for his own or another’s use or, knowing that any conveyance has been taken without such authority, drives it or allows himself to be carried in or on it.

  • 1
    Only if it's a motorbike, taking a push bike (which isn't a motor vehicle) falls under subsection 5.
    – user35069
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 5:47

There are many "levels" of theft in California, but I always begin with "theft is taking property that without asking and without intent to return". Stealing a bike would most likely be considered petty theft, stealing a possession valued under $950. One possible argument to defend you may be lack of intent to steal; http://www.gddlaw.com/criminal-defense/theft-crimes/

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .