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What Is Larceny?

Larceny is a type of theft where a person takes possession of property that belongs to someone else without permission. For a theft charge to be considered larceny, the item must be removed from the owner’s presence and the offender has taken control over the item by holding, selling or giving the item away.

Larceny has several elements that must be satisfied to qualify for this charge, at any jurisdictional level. To qualify for charges of larceny, the offender(s) must have wrongfully taken and carried away property lawfully belonging to another individual or entity. Further, there must be an absence of consent from the property owner, and all pertinent government agencies, regarding this appropriation of property.

Finally, larceny charges require that the offender intend to permanently deprive the victim of their personal property — if there is provable intent to return the item at some point, this element may not be satisfied.

Larceny only applies to personal property. Real estate, for example, cannot be the subject of larceny.

Types of Larceny

There are two types of larceny: petty larceny or grand larceny. The difference between these two charges is the value of the item or items that have been taken and the penalties that are applied.

A crime is usually considered to be grand larceny when the item or items that were taken are valued at or above a certain amount. The amount can vary among jurisdictions but grand larceny is usually a felony regardless. Petty larceny is generally a misdemeanor because the item or items taken are less valuable.

Is Larceny a Felony?

Larceny can be prosecuted either as a felony or a misdemeanor in both federal and state courts. Typically, the difference between misdemeanor larceny and felonious larceny rests on the value of the property stolen. In cases where the amount stolen is valued at $250 or more, felony charges are the typical result. If the value of the sum stolen is less than $250, misdemeanor charges are more likely.

Larceny vs. Grand Larceny

Larceny is differentiated from grand larceny by the value of the goods stolen by the offender. Most jurisdictions place the threshold for crossing over from simple larceny to grand larceny at $250 in terms of the value of the goods stolen by the offender.

Larceny vs. Theft

It is important to remember that all larcenies are thefts, but not all theft crimes are larcenies. Larceny is a subcategory of theft more broadly, and refers more specifically to the appropriation, without consent, of someone else’s property and then moving that property to another location, with no intention of returning it to its lawful owner.

Theft can include behaviors such as larceny, but can also involve behaviors such as burglary (entering a building or property of another with intent to steal) or robbery (stealing from an unwilling individual or entity by use of force, or via threat of force).

What Is the Penalty for Larceny?

The penalty for larceny and grand larceny depends on the circumstances of the crime such as whether or not it was the first offense versus a repeat offense, whether the case is to be heard in federal court versus state court and the value of the goods stolen.

The penalty for basic larceny is typically decided at the state level. Most states provide for a potential punishment of up to six months in county jail, as well as restitution and fines, in response to misdemeanor larceny convictions. Grand larceny convictions at the state level can offenders penalized with up to 15 years imprisonment (12, for example, in the state of New York) in addition to severe fines and other monetary penalties.

At the federal level, the penalty for grand larceny typically ranges from 12 to 90 months imprisonment, based on the relevant sentencing guidelines. These guidelines operate on a points system, and if the value of the goods stolen exceeds $5,000, extra points are added due to the aggravated nature of the offense resulting in a stiffer overall sentence in most cases. In most aggravated cases, or if the convicted party is a proven repeat offender, the sentence could include up to 20 years behind bars.

Possible Defenses Against Larceny Charges

There are several possible defenses in response to larceny charges. The claim of ownership, or belief of ownership, is often a defense. If you can show that you have a reasonable belief or better yet, proof of ownership over the items allegedly taken, this could produce a viable defense. One cannot steal an item that he or she owns or believes he or she owns.

Entrapment may also be a factor in some larceny cases. Arguing that there was no initial intent to commit the theft, but that you were coerced into doing so by an undercover police officer, could produce a strong enough defense to convince a court provided there is evidence to support such an allegation.

Duress, as a defense, is similar. However, in this instance, you would argue that you were pressured by threats of force or blackmail, for example, to participate in the larceny.

Finally, simple consent could be a defense. If you can show that you had the consent of the plaintiff (in writing, email communication, etc.), the charges may be dropped in response.

How a Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

If you’ve been accused of larceny, you’ll need to contact an attorney right away. An experienced attorney can defend someone accused of grand larceny or petty larceny but it is important to find one who understands the laws of the jurisdiction in which you have been charged. Attorneys understand the complexities of the law, which vary from state to state and can help you prepare the best possible defense. Otherwise, you could be facing fines and even jail time.

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