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Larceny is a legal term for theft that involves taking property without the owner's consent. Larceny was an offense under common law and can be referred to as "theft" or "larceny," depending on the state. In general, larceny is the theft of personal property, including money, cars, clothing, jewelry, or computers.

The penalties for theft can include jail time and fines. The criminal sentence for larceny can depend on the type and value of the property involved, and even on the type of victim. Since laws vary so much by state, it may be best to consult an expert in your state larceny laws if you find yourself in criminal trouble — you can find a top professional near you here.

Criminal Larceny

Criminal larceny statutes vary by state. For example, in California, larceny is stealing, taking, carrying, leading, or driving away the personal property of another. In Vermont, larceny includes stealing money, goods, chattels (personal possessions), banknotes, bonds, and promissory notes.

Other Theft Crimes

Larceny is a type of theft crime. Other theft crimes include robberyburglary, motor vehicle theft, embezzlement, or criminal fraud. Larceny is one of the most common property crimes. According to the FBI, in 2019, there were more than 5 million larceny thefts nationwide. The most common type of larceny involved taking property from a motor vehicle, including tools, bags, money, and electronics. Other common larceny thefts included:

  • Shoplifting
  • Theft from a building
  • Theft of motor vehicle accessories
  • Bike theft
  • Purse snatching
  • Pick-pocketing
  • Theft from coin-operated machines


Shoplifting is larceny that involves taking merchandise from a store without paying the full price. Employees can also commit shoplifting by using their position to make it easier to steal from the store without getting caught. The penalties for shoplifting generally depend on the value of the property taken.

Grand Larceny and Petty Theft

Larceny crimes can be categorized as "grand" or "petty." Grand theft usually involves larceny of property over a certain value, while petty (or "petit") larceny usually involves the theft of property under a certain amount. The difference between grand theft and petty theft may also be based on the type of property. Grand larceny may be charged as a felony or misdemeanor, while petty larceny is generally a misdemeanor offense.

In some states, the criminal statute does not differentiate between grand and petty larceny but instead bases penalties on the category or class of crime. For example, in Texas, theft is unlawfully appropriating property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property without the owner's consent. The class of criminal charge is based on the value and type of property involved. The lowest class of offense for larceny in Texas is a Class C misdemeanor, for theft of property less than $100. Theft of $2,500 of property or more is a state jail felony. Theft of property valued at $300,000 or more is a first-degree felony. Larceny can also be charged as a felony offense—regardless of the value of the property—if it involves:

  • Theft from a person
  • Theft from a grave
  • A stolen firearm
  • Theft with two prior theft convictions
  • Theft of an official election ballot

Motor Vehicle Grand Theft

Motor vehicle theft may be considered grand larceny, or it may be charged under a separate criminal statute. Car theft is generally a felony, regardless of the value of the car; stealing an old car worth $500 and stealing a luxury sports vehicle could both be charged as felonies in most states. Theft of a vehicle by force or threat of force may be considered "carjacking," which is a much more serious criminal offense than larceny.

Diversion for Larceny Charges

Some petty larceny charges may be eligible for diversion programs or deferred prosecution, which may allow the defendant to avoid a criminal conviction if they complete a probation program. The diversion program generally requires the defendant to stay out of future criminal trouble, report to a probation officer, and be subject to drug testing or random searches. The benefit of diversion is that successful completion means the theft charge will not show up on a background check.

Eligibility for diversion is generally limited to non-violent petty theft for first-time offenders. If you are facing criminal charges for the first time, talk to your criminal defense lawyer about diversion programs or other alternatives to jail to help you keep a clean record. A clean criminal record can make it easier to get a job and find housing.

Criminal Defense Strategies for Theft Charges

There may be viable defenses to criminal theft charges. Common defenses include mistaken identity, lack of evidence, or evidence gathered in an unlawful search or seizure under the Constitution. A criminal defense attorney can review your case and help you understand your legal rights and options.