A man was charged with stealing coats that were being given away for free.

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Inside the Law: Theft by Stealing Something Free

November 06, 2018 - 5:30 am

By Amy E. Feldman, Judge Technology Solutions

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A man was charged with stealing coats that were being given away for free. 

Two coat racks outside an abandoned building had a sign that read, "If you are cold, take one." A man came by and took the two coat racks with all the coats and was charged with theft. 

But is it theft to take something that's being given away? 

Theft is the unauthorized taking of property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. So, is it a crime to take something the owner wants to give away, just not all of it to you? 

If a condition is attached to the free item, a sign, for example, that says "take one," then you have deprived someone of the property that was not yours to take. That's why a man who took a whole tray of sample cookies from a Colorado grocery store was arrested for shoplifting.  

But even where there's no "take one" sign or you would not be prosecuted, don't be a jerk. If you know it's not all for you, leave it. 

For his part, the man who took the racks assumed they had been abandoned so he had donated all the coats to goodwill. 

When he agreed to replace the racks, the charges were dismissed.