Theft Law




What is Theft Law?

Theft law deals with a variety of crimes in which the defendant takes money, assets, services, or other property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of the property. These crimes exist at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Theft statutes usually refer to the value of the property taken by the defendant, with penalties escalating on this basis. Besides imposing jail, fines, and other punishment, courts in all jurisdictions will require those convicted of theft to make restitution by repaying victims for their losses.

Categories of Theft Crimes

Offenses involving property valued at less than $1,000 or so are usually treated as misdemeanors. These crimes are commonly referred to as petty or petite larceny. Thefts of more valuable property are referred to as grand larceny and treated as felonies. Besides the value of the property taken, theft crimes are categorized by the type of property taken and the method used by the perpetrator to acquire it.

The most serious theft crimes involve the use or threatened use of force. Most notable among these is the crime of robbery. Some instances of robbery are easy to recognize, such as mugging, bank heists, and carjacking. Other times robbery charges can come as a surprise, especially to those accused of conduct that might seem less serious at first blush. For example, a person apprehended for shoplifting who attempts to flee with the merchandise by physically breaking free of a security guard’s grasp may very well be guilty of robbery.

Another category of theft involves financial crimes, such as embezzlement, insurance fraud, and forgery. Also known as white collar crime, these offenses are often committed by people who hold positions of trust within the business community. Through various forms of dishonest conduct, perpetrators of financial crimes find ways to steal from victims using trickery, rather than force. Some of the largest and most notorious thefts ever carried out fall within this category.

Property Valuation Issues

Theft statutes will indicate what the minimum value of the stolen property must be in order for the defendant to be convicted under that specific law. This can provide an opportunity for accused individuals to defend their case without regard for whether or not the property was wrongfully taken. Victims and prosecutors often inflate the true value of the stolen property to serve their own purposes. Victims do so in hopes of being reimbursed more than they deserve, and prosecutors do not want to spend the time that is necessary to independently verify the information provided by the victims.

A successful challenge to the minimum value of the property will lead the court to dismiss the case, or at least force the prosecutor to amend the charges to a less serious theft offense. Defendants should work with their attorneys to gain access to the supporting documents provided by the victim, such as purchase receipts, written appraisals, or blue book valuation printouts. In some cases, defendants will be surprised to learn that the valuation upon which they are being prosecuted rests on nothing more than an unsupported assertion by the victim.

Defendants who suspect the property value allegations are inaccurate should collect competent evidence to the contrary. As with other matters that arise in criminal cases, the degree to which the defendant can persuade the judge on the issue of valuation will depend upon the reliability of the evidence presented.

Thus, the judge will give little credence to a defendant who takes the stand and asserts that, in his or her opinion, the property is worth less than the statutory minimum. On the other hand, the judge will pay close attention to the testimony of an expert in the field of appraising property of that kind. This is especially true if the defendant’s attorney has previously arranged for the expert to inspect the stolen property during pre-trial discovery.

Deferral Programs for First Offenders

Any sort of theft crime conviction can severely impact the employability of the defendant in the future. In an effort to keep a record of the incident from appearing on their criminal histories, qualifying defendants in many jurisdictions can request to take part in a deferral program. Under such a program the defendant pleads guilty, but the court holds the plea pending successful completion of probation. As long as the defendant pays restitution, stays out of trouble, and satisfies all of the other conditions imposed by the judge, the case will be dismissed at the end of the probationary period. The plea is never entered, and no conviction will appear on the defendant’s record.

Consult with a Theft Law Defense Attorney

If you have been accused of theft, it is important to consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately. Even if charges have not yet been filed, an attorney can protect your rights while the crime is being investigated. Schedule a consultation now to learn how the law applies to the facts of your case.

Copyright HG.org

Know Your Rights!

Articles on HG.org Related to Theft Law

  • What Happens After a Felony Conviction
    A felony charge is pursued by a prosecutor when a serious crime is committed. A federal felony is category of crime that involves breaking a law at the national rather than local level. Both types of felonies carry similar punishment.
  • Pretrial Dispositions of Criminal Cases
    The vast majority of criminal cases never go to trial. These cases are either disposed of by a plea bargain or dismissed outright. This article explains two common ways by which criminal cases are disposed of in a plea bargain that may also result in a dismissal upon completion.
  • Burglary Offenses in the Tampa Bay Area
    Simply put, burglary involves entering a house, structure, business, or vehicle without the consent of the owner and with the intent to commit a criminal offense once inside. Burglary is an invasive property crime that can have some very serious, life altering consequences for the accused person.
  • Choosing a California Criminal Defense Attorney
    Californian criminal defense is a complex field, involving numerous state and federal statuses, as well as other regulations. Thereby, if you happen to need a criminal defense, it’s imperative to make an informed decision when choosing an expert attorney.
  • If my Friend's Property is Listed as Stolen, Can I be Held Responsible for Pawning it?
    There are many reasons as to why you were in possession of the property and why you would have never stolen it.
  • Six California Residents Arrested For Financial Elder Abuse Scams
    Six California residents have been arrested for scams that targeted senior citizens. The suspects were arrested in southern California.
  • Is it Possible to Commit the Crime of Theft with Regard to Intellectual Property?
    When it comes to intellectual property, many of us think of copyrighted works of art, patented products, or trademarked logos. All of these items are intellectual property, but infringing on someone's intellectual property rights is usually handled as a civil matter, not criminal. So, is it ever possible to commit the crime of theft with regard to intellectual property?
  • Fake ID Laws
    Many remember a time before 9/11 when using a fake ID was almost a rite of passage, and those caught doing so were usually subject only to having their ID confiscated, a thorough scolding, and being sent home to answer to likely irate parents. While still prevalent, using fake ID's is no longer considered a harmless practice and those caught making or using them can face very severe criminal punishments.
  • Is it Legal for Someone to Post my Private Photos Then Demand Money for Their Removal?
    Over the last few years, a number of unscrupulous websites have developed around Americans' increasing comfort with sharing private, intimate photos with one another. While the photos are usually not intended for public consumption, often after a rough breakup or other event in which the recipient is left unhappy, that person will post those photos for the world to see. But is this legal? More importantly, can the site where the photos are posted legally charge you to take them down?
  • Is It Legal to Leave a Car Running Unattended?
    Whenever cold weather approaches, there is an increase in the number of people who leave their cars running unattended in an effort to warm them up before driving anywhere. While this might be good for the engine and make for a toasty commute, it may not always be legal.
  • All Criminal Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Criminal Law including: arson, assault, battery, bribery, burglary, child abuse, child pornography, computer crime, controlled substances, credit card fraud, criminal defense, criminal law, drugs and narcotics, DUI, DWI, embezzlement, fraud, expungements, felonies, homicide, identity theft, manslaughter, money laundering, murder, perjury, prostitution, rape, RICO, robbery, sex crimes, shoplifting, theft, weapons, white collar crime and wire fraud.

Theft Law - US

  • Auto Theft Information

    Our mission consists of remaining the premier aggregator and disseminator of information on auto theft to the general public.

  • FBI - Art Theft Program

    Art and cultural property crime - which includes theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines -- is a looming criminal enterprise with estimated losses running as high as $6 billion annually.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation - Uniform Crime Reporting - Larceny / Theft

    The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program defines larceny-theft as the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another. Examples are thefts of bicycles, motor vehicle parts and accessories, shoplifting, pocket-picking, or the stealing of any property or article that is not taken by force and violence or by fraud. Attempted larcenies are included. Embezzlement, confidence games, forgery, check fraud, etc., are excluded.

  • Larceny / Theft - Overview

    Larceny generally refers to nonviolent theft. It is a common-law term developed by the royal courts of England in the seventeenth century. In the United States, most jurisdictions have eliminated the crime of Larceny from statutory codes, in favor of a general theft statute. The crime of larceny was developed to punish the taking of property in nonviolent face-to-face encounters, and to set it apart from Robbery. Robbery involved some measure of violence in connection with theft, and the courts did not feel that a nonviolent theft should warrant the same punishment. Larceny was nevertheless punished severely. A person convicted of larceny could receive the death penalty or be sentenced to many years in prison.

  • National Archive of Criminal Justice Data (NACJD)

    Central to NIBRS is the concept of a crime incident. An "incident" is defined for NIBRS reporting purposes as one or more offenses committed by the same offender, or group of offenders acting in concert, at the same time and place. "Acting in concert" requires that the offenders actually commit or assist in the commission of the crime(s). The offenders must be aware of, and consent to, the commission of the crime(s); or even if nonconsenting, their actions assist in the commission of the offense(s). This is important because all of the offenders in an incident are considered to have committed all of the offenses in the incident. If one or more of the offenders did not act in concert, then there is more than one incident involved.

  • National Stolen Property Act - US Code Title 18

    Although it is called the National Stolen Property Act, the term "property" itself appears only in the second paragraph of 18 U.S.C. § 2314 (which was added in 1956) and can be interpreted in that paragraph as including all forms of property, both personal and real. However, in the first paragraphs of 18 U.S.C. § § 2314 and 2315 the statutory language utilized is "goods, wares, merchandise, securities or money."

  • No Electronic Theft Act (NET)

    The United States No Electronic Theft Act (NET Act), a federal law passed in 1997, provides for criminal prosecution of individuals who engage in copyright infringement, even when there is no monetary profit or commercial benefit from the infringement. Maximum penalties can be five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. The NET Act also raised statutory damages by 50%.

  • Office of Diversion Control - Theft or Significant Loss of Controlled Substances

    DEA is publishing this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to propose the clarification of its policies and procedures regarding the reporting by registrants of the theft or significant loss of controlled substances.

  • Office of Procurement and Property Management - Theft in the Workplace

    The following informational brochure contains suggestions on reducing the potential for theft in the workplace.

  • Theft - Wikipedia

    In criminal law, theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's freely-given consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting, fraud and sometimes criminal conversion. In some jurisdictions, theft is considered to be synonymous with larceny; in others, theft has replaced larceny.

  • United States Postal Inspection Service - Mail Theft

    Every American knows the name of the agency that delivers their mail--the U.S. Postal Service handles 668 million pieces of mail every day. The vast majority of it arrives intact, but thieves get to some of it before delivery. Did you know that it's U.S. Postal Inspectors who investigate mail thefts? They get high ratings for their work, in the last year alone arresting over 6,000 theft suspects.

  • United States Secret Service

    The mission of the United States Secret Service is to safeguard the nation's financial infrastructure and payment systems to preserve the integrity of the economy, and to protect national leaders, visiting heads of state and government, designated sites and National Special Security Events.

Organizations Related to Theft Law

  • Bureau of Justice Statistics - Identity Theft

    For the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the definition of identity theft includes three behaviors: * unauthorized use or attempted use of existing credit cards * unauthorized use or attempted use of other existing accounts, such as checking accounts * misuse of personal information to obtain new accounts or loans, or to commit other crimes.

  • Law for Kids - Theft

    LawForKids.org is America's first stand alone web site dedicated to teaching children about the law. The Site was created by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education with the specific goal of educating Arizona's youth, their parents, communities and schools to increase their knowledge about youth laws and to encourage law-abiding behavior.

  • National Association of Home Inventory Professionals - Theft Protection Tips

    Homeowners who become victims of theft are likely to experience a great deal of stress as they struggle to remember the items in their home for purposes of filing a police report or insurance claim. In addition, “most homeowners simply don’t have the proof required to maximize their insurance claim” according to Fred Knapp, Director of The National Association of Home Inventory Professionals (NAHIP), a highly dedicated group of professionals working to ensure the protection of home and small business owners by providing property documentation services.

  • National Crime Prevention Council - Home and Neighborhood Safety

    In these times of economic distress, many people are concerned about the threat of rising crime in their communities. Fortunately, there are ways to help protect your home and your neighborhood from crime. From simple steps like keeping your doors locked to starting a Neighborhood Watch program, there are plenty of things you can do to prevent crime.

Publications Related to Theft Law

  • More Business - Tips to Stop Workplace Theft

    Is workplace theft really that bad? Is it something really necessary to be alarmed about? If you own or operate a business, it is. According to American DataBank, $120 billion annually are lost through employee theft. And in his book (Biting the Hand that Feeds), Terry Shulman relates that 20% of every company's dollar is spent on employee theft. Those numbers aren't huge...they're astronomical.

  • Scambusters - Avoiding Identity Theft at Work

    Unfortunately, as we hear every single day, being smart is NOT enough to protect yourself from dangerous Internet scams, frustrating spam, or devious identity theft.


Find a Local Lawyer