Elements of Theft
What is Theft?
Theft, also known as larceny, can be defined as the wrongful taking and carrying away of the property of another with the intent to deprive the person of the property permanently. Theft can be committed in a number of different ways, most of which is described below.
What are the Elements of Theft?
In order to be properly convicted of theft, all of the following elements must be true:
- Wrongful Taking – The taking was without consent and is unlawful
- Carrying Away – The property need only be moved from where the owner had placed it or intended it to be placed for this element to be met
- Property of Another – It is a defense in most cases of theft if the “thief” reasonable believed the property belonged to him or her
- Intent to Deprive Permanently – The thief intends that the owner not see or own the property ever again.
Types of Theft
The specific elements needed to prove theft depend on the type of theft committed.
Auto theft is the theft of a motor vehicle. Motor vehicles include the following:
- Autos (cars)
- Trucks and buses
- Other motorized vehicles (including motorcycles, snowmobiles, golf carts and mopeds)
Petty theft is the theft of anything with a value less than a specified money amount. In most states, theft of anything under a value of $400 is petty theft. Petty theft is usually a misdemeanor.
Felony theft, which may also be known as grand theft, is theft of anything over a specified value, usually over $400. As indicated by the name, this type of theft is a felony.
Theft by Embezzlement
Embezzlement occurs when you appropriate property that has been entrusted to you for your own purposes. It is necessary that the property be acquired through a relationship of trust, also known as a fiduciary duty. For example, if you give your lawyer a deposit, it would be embezzlement for your lawyer to use that money for his own purposes.
Theft by Forced Entry
Theft by forced entry into a property, such as a house, room, apartment, motor vehicle or tent, is considered burglary. Note that the thief does not have to actually break into the property for it to be burglary. Trespass, entry without consent, is enough to trigger burglary if the trespass was committed to enable theft.
The difference between burglary into a motor vehicle and auto theft is that in auto theft the property being stolen is the motor vehicle itself. Burglary into a motor vehicle occurs when the thief enters the vehicle in order to take something other than the vehicle. Burglary and auto theft are not mutually exclusive; it is possible for a thief to steal the car and then steal items inside the car.
Theft by Force
Theft through the use of force or fear of force is known as robbery. Note that the actual application of force is not required; the victim(s) merely have to be afraid of the thief for the crime to be considered robbery. Robbery may be enhanced, be given extra punishment, if a deadly weapon was used to commit the crime. Deadly weapons are typically defined as guns, explosives, knives, or anything else which could inflict a fatal injury.
Theft by Deception
There are two kinds of theft by deception. One is called false pretenses and the other is known as larceny by trick. (Larceny is the same thing as theft). There is basically one small difference between the two. In false pretenses, there is usually a transfer of a title or deed whereas in larceny by trick the owner simply gives up possession (not ownership).
- False pretenses - When you deceive someone into giving up possession and ownership of his/her property through some misrepresentation of the truth (i.e., lying), you have committed the crime of false pretenses. For example, if you lie to someone and tell them that you will pay $5000 for his/her car and they give you the car, with the pink slip, you have committed false pretenses.
- Larceny by trick - Unlike false pretenses, to commit larceny by trick you need all trick someone into giving possession of his/her property to you. For example, if you just tell a person you want to borrow his/her car and you don't get the pink slip (which is indicative of ownership), you have committed larceny by trick.
Theft by Possession
Theft by possession occurs when you have possession of stolen property. In order to be guilty of theft by possession, you must have possession of stolen property, know that it is stolen (or believe it probably was stolen), and meet the other elements of theft. There is also usually some monetary value that must be met (e.g., $400 in value).
What Can You Do if You are Accused of Theft?
If you are accused of theft you should speak to a criminal defense lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses, and the criminal justice system. A criminal defense lawyer has the experience and knowledge to help defend you.
Victims of Theft
If you are a victim of theft you should call the police. If there is sufficient evidence, the police will forward your case to the Prosecutor’s office to prosecute the person who committed the crime against you.
Consult a Lawyer - Present Your Case Now!
Last Modified: 08-20-2013 10:39 AM PDT
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