What Are the Different Types of Theft Charges?
The law defines different types of theft based on factors such as what's stolen, how the crime is committed and the value of the stolen items.
Exploring the theft and larceny types can help you understand the charges against you or help you understand how a case might proceed if you've had something stolen.
“Theft” is a general term that means someone who's unauthorized to do so takes property from someone else. The intent is to keep those belongings from the owner permanently. Every state has its own definitions of different theft charges, which could vary slightly. The punishments for theft crimes can also vary by state.
“Larceny” is typically another word for theft. It happens when you take someone's property without their consent and with no intention of returning it to them. The punishment varies depending on the type of theft or larceny.
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Petty theft is classified based on the value of what's stolen. It's typically a lower value than grand theft. The dollar amount varies by state. You're typically charged with a misdemeanor if the crime is considered petty theft. This means the sentence is usually lighter than a grand theft charge — possibly less than a year, with or without fines.
Grand theft is generally considered to be a higher-value theft crime. The value of the property is above a certain threshold defined by the state. You'll often receive a longer sentence and higher fines since the value of the stolen property is higher.
Some states classify theft in degrees based on the value of the stolen property. For example, first-degree theft in Iowa includes property values over $10,000 and is a class C felony. Fifth-degree theft is the lowest option in Iowa, with property values not exceeding $350. This is a simple misdemeanor.
Common Theft Charges
Shoplifting or Retail Theft
Shoplifting or retail theft is a situation where you steal items from a business instead of an individual. It can fall under its own category or general larceny, depending on state laws. To be charged with shoplifting, there needs to be the intent to keep the items from the store. That means if you accidentally forget to pay for something in your cart, you most likely won't be charged with shoplifting.
The sentence for shoplifting depends largely on the value of the stolen property. Stealing a low-value item will likely be a misdemeanor with one year or less in jail. If you steal a high-value item and are charged with a felony, you could receive a sentence of one to five years in prison. You might also face fines and have to pay restitution.
Auto theft refers specifically to stealing a vehicle. It's often a more serious theft crime due to the value of a vehicle. Grand theft auto happens when someone steals a parked vehicle with no one in it. The sentence for grand theft auto could be up to five years in jail, plus fines and restitution. Carjacking is another potential crime that happens when someone steals a car directly from the owner. Since this is more serious, the punishment is typically much harsher — possibly 20 years to life in prison.
Robbery is a type of theft that uses force or is done in the victim's presence. For example, you could steal a wallet from someone's backpack without forcing it from them, and it would still be considered robbery. It's often a violent crime, which typically makes it a more severe crime with a longer sentence. The perpetrator could also face additional charges if they seriously injure or kill the person they're robbing. Robbery sentencing could be anywhere from five to 20 years or more, depending on the circumstances.
The definition of burglary is typically entering a structure unlawfully, intending to commit a crime. You don't have to break and enter to be charged with burglary. Walking through an unlocked door if you intend to commit a crime qualifies. You also don't have to steal anything for the crime to be considered a burglary. You simply have to intend to commit some sort of crime.
Burglary is often described in different degrees based on the severity, with the sentence corresponding to the severity. For example, someone who walks through an open door and steals a low-value item might get a relatively short sentence, while someone who uses force to enter a home while a resident is present or steals a high-value item could face a more severe punishment. Burglary penalties could range up to 20 years in prison, with fines of $1,000 or more for serious situations.
When someone commits identity theft, they use another person's personal information without permission. Examples can include using someone else's credit card or using someone's name, Social Security number and other identifying information to open a new line of credit. While the perpetrator might not be stealing directly from the victim, they can destroy the victim's credit rating and cause major headaches.
Identity theft is typically prosecuted at the federal level, although some states also have identity theft laws. The federal identity theft punishment can include prison time of up to 15 years along with a fine and giving up personal property used to carry out the crime. The penalty can be more severe if it also includes fraud, such as computer, wire or credit card fraud. The jail sentence could increase by up to 30 years.
Embezzlement happens when someone legally has access to someone else's assets but uses them inappropriately. For example, an employee with access to a company's money as part of their job description but uses the money for personal things is guilty of embezzlement. The punishment typically corresponds to the amount that's embezzled. You're typically required to pay restitution for embezzlement, and you might also face fines and jail time.
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