Theft Law and Legal Resources

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What Is Theft?

Theft is a crime prohibited by the laws of every state and the federal government. There are different categories of theft, ranging from petit to grand, from misdemeanor to felony level. Theft is generally defined as the taking of a person’s property with the intent to permanently deprive the person of the property.

To convict a person of theft, two elements must be proved:

  • Property was taken, and
  • The person took the property with the intent to permanently deprive the person of the property

Defenses to Theft

A person accused of theft can defend against the charge by claiming there was no intent to keep the property, and that he or she only intended to borrow the property. Establishing the element of intent is often where proof of a theft can be contested.

For example, many state laws distinguish between the theft of an auto and one taken for the purpose of joyriding. Auto theft requires the element of intent to permanently deprive be proved; intent to keep the car is not an element of joyriding, where the joyrider only took possession of the car for temporary recreational use.

Levels of Theft

Theft is usually divided into misdemeanor and felony classes, the designation depending on the value of the property taken. The class of the theft also dictates the severity, and in some cases, the types of punishment that can be imposed. Misdemeanors typically warrant smaller fines and shorter jail times than felonies.

Most state laws have absorbed the similar crime of larceny into the criminal statutes prohibiting theft. Even though the term “larceny” is still heard and used, for the most part theft is the prevalent crime.

Categories of Theft

Other categories of theft include petty theft (petit theft), grand theft auto, and theft (or larceny) by trick, all of which refine the crime of theft with specific elements the commission of which may lessen or increase the severity of punishment.

Theft is also distinguished from robbery, which usually requires an element of force or intimidation.

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