What Does Theft Mean In Terms of the Law?

By Gregory Harrington posted 01-02-2021 01:14:14 AM


Most people understand theft to mean taking someone else’s property without their permission. Shoplifting, burglary, embezzlement, looting and larceny are all terms that describe a different type of theft and have state laws to deal with them. From a legal perspective, theft encompasses various categories and degrees. 

A legal definition of theft

Within the legal definition of theft are two main elements. The first is that theft is the unauthorized taking of someone else’s property. The second is that there was the intent to permanently deprive the victim by taking it. 

Most of the complex challenges in cases related to theft hang on the second part, which is the element of intent. For a theft to be proven, it must be shown that the accused acted with the specific intent to take someone else’s property and keep it. 

Criminal attorney, Vik Monder of Monder Criminal Lawyer Group, is a highly experienced, qualified and knowledgeable San Diego-based criminal defense attorney who helps people to protect their legal and constitutional rights. 

Even petty theft charges can have severe penalties and a criminal defense attorney will mount a suitable defense. Defendants may believe the property was theirs, they were just borrowing it and intended to return it or that the owner gave them permission to take it. 

Types and degrees of theft

The type of property stolen and what it is worth determine the category or degree of theft charges. Many states categorize theft as “petty theft” or “grand theft.” 

Petty theft typically occurs when an individual steals the property of a value below a certain amount stipulated by law. Petty theft is categorized as a relatively minor crime and is also called a misdemeanor. 

A conviction for petty theft requires proving that the defendant took possession of someone else’s property without the owner’s permission and intended to permanently deprive the owner of it. 

The penalties for petty theft usually consist of time in jail, a fine, or both. Jail time is typically less than six months and the fine has an upper limit of $1,000. If an accused does not have any prior convictions, the penalties are not as severe. However, a second conviction will result in a felony conviction with a harsher sentence. 

Grand theft occurs when more valuable property is stolen. The market value for the property is typically used to determine value. Grand theft can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony according to various circumstances, such as type of property, previous criminal history, or how the theft occurred. Felony charges are more serious, typically resulting in jail time of over a year in state prison, fines and restitution. 

Grand felony theft is the charge, regardless of dollar amount, if a vehicle or a firearm is stolen and this carries more severe penalties. States also have other special categories of property that carry specific charges and stiffer penalties. If the manner of theft is violent, it will also be classed as a felony. 

Factors that affect theft sentencing

Theft crimes carry penalties that range from relatively minor to very serious. Even in cases of petty theft, there can be more serious penalties for repeat offenders. Repeat offenders will receive harsher sentences than first-time offenders for the same crime. 

A defendant’s criminal history, even if it is unrelated to theft, can also play a role in sentencing. A conviction of theft can complicate an individual’s life for years to come and it is worth receiving legal advice on the best course of action if an individual is accused of theft.