Criminal Law

Larceny Definition

The crime of larceny involves taking someone's personal property with the intent to deprive them of it. The term “larceny" is often used for crimes involving theft, stealing, or robbery, but it has its own unique definition in different states. The jurisdictions that use it as a separate crime also have separate punishments for larceny.

The word "larceny" may not be as familiar to you. It comes from the Anglo-Norman word "larcin" which means theft. That likely comes from the Latin word "latrocinium," a derivative of "latro," their historical and cultural word for a robber.

What Is Larceny?

Larceny is a term in criminal law defined as taking someone else's property with "the intent to deprive" them of it. The item is taken without permission for an unknown amount of time. You must have the intent to stop the owner from using the item. For example, the unlawful taking of an item you give back later is still larceny, theft, or stealing.

Key Takeaways

  • Larceny is not the same as robbery or burglary
  • Larceny and other theft crimes are different misdemeanors unless local laws use the term interchangeably
  • The charges can increase with the value of the property taken – taking something worth more than $1,000 might result in a “grand larceny" charge, for example.

Understanding Larceny

There are various synonyms some courts will use for a larceny charge, including stealing, petit larceny, petty larceny, simple larceny, theft, and petty theft.

These are generally considered minor crimes where a person's property is taken, and does not apply to real estate. The taker's intent is to permanently keep the item. Items are not taken directly from off a person and buildings are not broken into. Larceny does not involve violence, use of force, or threat of force.

Larceny vs. Other Property Crimes

It is helpful to understand what larceny is by understanding what it is not. It differs from the following crimes in these ways:

  • Grand Theft/Grand Larceny: This is the same as the definitions above, except it is considered a serious crime when the market value of the property is over a certain amount. This varies from state to state but is often over $1,000.
  • Grand Theft Auto: taking a motor vehicle. This qualifies as car theft even if other stolen property is in the car or it was a getaway car.
  • Robbery: refers to a crime where the property is taken off a person. The crime can be violent or non-violent.
  • Burglaryrequires breaking into a building or home or entering without permission. The property does not need to be successfully taken. The act of entering a place without permission to take items makes it burglary, not the items actually being taken.
  • Embezzlement: taking or moving money that is within your control or from your employer. Sometimes called "misappropriation." If threats or violent force are used, then this crime is called extortion.
  • Stealing: This term often covers various types of property crimes.
  • False Pretenses: This is a type of theft where someone promises something in return or lies and does not follow through on the deal. It is similar to fraud. An example is a salesperson taking your money and promising to deliver an item but never doing so.
  • Shoplifting: the taking of property from a store or business.

Simple larceny should be considered the most basic and least serious crime in this list. If there are other specifics to the crime, then there is likely another more specific charge that law enforcement will use.

Examples of Larceny

Since it is typically a minor crime with low-value property taken, larceny crimes commonly happen to a few items. You might be charged for larceny for pick-pocketing or taking a bicycle, motor vehicle parts, car accessories, or other items above $500.

Related Terms