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Theft Definition

Theft is defined as the unauthorized taking of property from another with the objective of permanently depriving them of that property.

What Elements Are Required to Prove a Theft Has Occurred?

In order to prove that a theft has occurred, two key elements need to be present. The first is that someone else’s property has to be taken and the second is there has to be the intent to deprive the victim of their property permanently. For property that cannot be moved, it becomes more complex to define when a theft has occurred.

What Is the Difference Between Theft & Larceny?

States vary on the difference between theft and larceny. In fact, some states have even merged statutes, and other states have kept larceny as a separate offense. Larceny is an offense that originates from common law. States that have kept larceny mainly refer to the common law definition within the Model Penal Code.

When considering whether a theft has taken place, a state will usually look at larceny to say whether an individual unlawfully took someone else’s property without the consent of its owner and had the intent to deprive them of that property permanently. The issue of taking an object and having the intent to do so is where it gets harder to prove a theft charge. In order to prove a theft that has taken place, the intent to never return the property to its rightful owner must be present. Without that specific intent, the individual can raise a defense that they were just borrowing the property for a short period of time.

What Are the Different Degrees of Theft?

When a theft case is charged, there are several questions asked to determine what degree of theft has taken place such as:

  • What type of property was stolen?
  • How much was the property actually worth?

Once these two questions are answered, a determination will be made if a petty theft or grand theft has occurred.

Petty Theft

Petty theft occurs when an individual steals property that is below a certain value. Each state dictates what the threshold is for petty theft. Typically, petty theft involves property that is worth less than $500 or $1,000 in total. Petty theft is normally a misdemeanor crime.

Grand Theft

Grand theft is a more severe charge and occurs when the property that is stolen is worth more than the limit of the state’s statute for petty theft. When making a determination of the property’s overall value, a market value assessment is completed. The market assessment will provide the fair market value of the property that can then be used to distinguish between grand theft and petty theft charges. Grand theft is a felony in all states, and carries much harsher consequences.

What Are the Punishments for Theft Charges?

The punishments assigned for theft charges will depend on factors related to the defendant’s criminal history and the particular factors of their case. Generally speaking, a judge will usually order jail/prison time, community service, fines, a diversion program for first-time offenders or probation. In some cases, state statutes will permit a judge to order additional penalties such as paying the victim restitution or reimbursement for the total dollar value of the property stolen. If a juvenile is being accused of theft, then there is a slightly different treatment since the case will have to go through juvenile court.

Are There Any Defenses for Theft Charges?

At times, there are missing details required to prove a theft charge successfully. A criminal defense attorney is going to be looking at factors such as:

  • Did the criminal eventually intend to return the property?
  • Did the offender actually take the property?
  • Did the offender have a reasonable belief they were taking the property at the time it was being taken?

By analyzing such factors, it may be possible to get the sentence reduced or dismissed. Theft is a charge that can incur serious consequences. This is particularly true if other offenses are involved with the theft charge. It is wise to consult with a criminal defense attorney in order to get the best possible result on a case dealing with theft charges.

Theft Glossary Definition

Theft is used to describe a group of crimes that involve the taking of a person’s property without their permission with the intent to never give it back. However, this act can escalate into other crimes such as robbery, burglary, and larceny depending on the specific facts of the case.