Is the crime of theft committed if it was proven to be an accident? For example you moved houses and somehow accidentally took your neighbors lawnmower? What if you returned it quickly, what if they asked you if you had it and you first said no? I'm interested in things that are generally under a few hundred dollars.

Maybe a simpler example is you were transporting boxes for your work and realized you had forgotten to take one out of the car. Is this considered theft or must it have been proven intentional?

Does the burden of proof lay on the plaintiff to show it was on purpose, or the defendant to show it was by accident?

  • It depends on the crime. At least, some crimes specify intent as an element, or premeditation, in which case "it was an accident" is certainly a defense. Other crimes can be committed through negligence, in which case "it was an accident" is certainly not a defense. Close voting as too broad; if you edit to narrow the question down a bit I will retract.
    – phoog
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 3:39
  • Related law.stackexchange.com/questions/8380/…
    – Dale M
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 5:13

1 Answer 1


In general, in Canada, the elements of an offence require the prosecution to prove that there was a criminal act and a criminal state of mind. There are exceptions where it suffices to show that the act happened. Since the example and tags indicate "theft" I assume that's what you're asking about. In Canada, the law (322 (1)) says

Every one commits theft who fraudulently and without colour of right takes, or fraudulently and without colour of right converts to his use or to the use of another person, anything, whether animate or inanimate, with intent

followed by a list: to deprive, to pledge as security, to destroy and one other thing that doesn't make a lick of sense. It is also the case that

For the purposes of this Act, the question whether anything that is converted is taken for the purpose of conversion, or whether it is, at the time it is converted, in the lawful possession of the person who converts it is not material.

That is, you may accidentally take without running afoul of the law, but you may not take and use as your own.

  • Also of note are the words fraudulently and without colour of right. But yeah, it basically means ill-intent and malice. You've got the gist of it :)
    – Zizouz212
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:32
  • I remember a case where a woman drove away from a parking spot in her car and an hour later the police was on her door step: It wasn't her car, it was the same make and colour and her car key fit, but it had been parked four cars behind her own. No theft fortunately.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 16:21
  • Thanks for the replies. So would the burden of proof lie on the plaintiff to show it was done intentionally and on purpose? Or would the defendant need to show it was an accident? Or would it be a common sense judgement e.g. you walked out of the store forgetting to pay vs you picked the lock to a safe and took money.
    – schaz
    Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 6:25

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