If you are charged with theft, it means that you have been suspected of illegally taking property that does not belong to you, with no intention of returning it. While most people associate theft with stealing, there are a number of other crimes that fall into the category of theft—from embezzlement to identity theft. The specific charge you face will depend on the circumstances surrounding your case. A conviction can mean severe penalties, so it is essential to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend you.
Petty Theft and Grand Theft
The amount that distinguishes petty theft from grand theft varies by state. In California for example, petty theft occurs when the value of the items stolen is less than $950. First-time petty theft offenses are charged as misdemeanors and carry a maximum sentence of six months in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Grand theft is charged when the stolen items total value exceeds $950, and may be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. In both cases, the prosecution must prove intent to steal. In the retail sector, people accused of grand theft are often employees of retail chains who attempt to return an item for a greater monetary value that it normally sells for, with the goal of keeping the difference.
Other Types of Theft
Other situations that may result in a theft charge include:
- Receiving stolen property when you knew that the items were stolen
- Renting equipment and failing to return it
- Using a false credit card or fake ID to purchase goods or services
- You locate someone’s personal property and know who the property belongs to, but have no plan to return it
- Penalties for Theft
Depending on the circumstance surrounding the theft and the value of the items involved, the charge may be a misdemeanor or a felony. Felonies often result in significant time in prison, whereas the penalties for a misdemeanor may be a fine or restitution. Although petty theft is a misdemeanor, in some states a second arrest for petty theft will be considered a felony. A qualified theft defense attorney can help you get the charges reduced to a lesser offense. Other times, your attorney may be able to negotiate civil restitution so that no criminal charges are brought. Some prosecutors will not pursue a charge if civil negotiations are in progress.
If you or a loved one has been accused of theft, search our listings of attorneys in your area.