Criminal Law

Defending Against Theft Charges

Theft is a crime that involves taking property that belongs to another person or business with no intention to return it. Although we often associate the crime of robbery with thieves, the crime of theft does not require the victim to be present or the thief to use force or intimidation.

Theft occurs more frequently than you may realize. Depending on how your state defines it, a theft charge may involve:

  • Stealing a vehicle
  • Shoplifting from a business
  • Taking money from another person's wallet
  • Dining and dashing
  • Hopping over a public transportation turnstile
  • Using utility services for your home without paying
  • Taking another person's information to steal their identity
  • Committing credit card, mail, insurance, or tax fraud
  • Embezzling money from a company you work for

It is essential to understand what kind of theft charge you may be facing so you can work with your attorney more effectively and they can better advocate for you.

What Are the Different Kinds of Theft Charges?

States often categorize theft into different classifications. The type and value of the property stolen will play a role in determining what kind of charge you will face and whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony.

  • Some states define petty theft for stolen property generally valued under $1,000 or grand theft for property that usually exceed $1,000. Some states also have grand felony theft charges for more expensive property.
  • Other states use different degrees in their theft charges. For example, a person may receive a first degree theft charge for stealing an expensive sports car, or a person could receive a third degree theft charge for shoplifting a jacket from a store.

Each state defines their own categories of theft along with different penalties for each of those specific categories. Some states even examine whether you were the sole person involved in the theft or if you were part of a large, planned scheme to steal the property.

What Happens if You Are Charged With Theft?

A number of factors will affect how your charges play out. First, there is the matter of whether you are facing a misdemeanor or felony charge. Any prior criminal history or past theft convictions can be an influencing factor in these cases.

The police may try to recover any stolen property and carry out an investigation for additional evidence like video recordings or witnesses to the alleged crime. From there, you may be offered a plea deal by the prosecution, or you may wish to go to trial with your attorney to fight the charges.

You may have a legal defense to this charge, like claiming it was your property to begin with or you had permission to borrow the property. Or perhaps it was a situation where someone else forced you to steal it. Occasionally, it is even possible that you were too intoxicated to know what you were doing and made a mistake.

What Are the Penalties for Theft?

The penalties for a theft conviction vary from state to state and by the type of theft charge, as well as any past criminal history. Prior theft convictions in particular will likely increase the severity of your sentence.

Oftentimes misdemeanors result in fines, restitution, and probation, but some states may sentence you up to a year in prison. Fines for misdemeanor offenses are generally under $1,000 but may change based on the situation. Usually, probation for these convictions is one year, but some jurisdictions may require this period to be longer.

Felony charges are punishable by a higher fine, more restitution paid, a longer probation period, and potential jail or prison sentences for longer than a year.

How Do I Decide if I Need an Attorney?

Whether you qualify for a public defender or not, you should consider finding an attorney who regularly defends against theft charges. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand the possible consequences for the type of charge you are facing and develop a defense strategy to combat it. Attorneys can also help you bargain for a fair plea deal or advocate for reasonable penalties at your sentencing hearing.

Although spending money for an attorney may seem intimidating, criminal defense lawyers often offer free consultations to look over your case. From there, defense attorneys may require an upfront fee to begin their work, allowing you to make additional payments along the way. It may be a good idea to speak to a few different attorneys to find one you are comfortable with and is within your price range.