Penalties and Sentencing for Theft

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What Does the Term “Theft” Cover?

In criminal law, the term “theft” can be used in reference to a number of different crimes.  Generally speaking, theft involves the unauthorized taking of the property of another person, in some form or another.  Theft crimes or “theft related crimes” can include:

Also, theft does not always have to involve the physical taking away of property.  Some theft crimes are accomplished through other means than physical force or effort.  Many white-collar crimes, like unauthorized bank account transfers, can be treated as a theft

What are the Penalties and Sentences for Theft?

Penalties and sentencing for theft crimes generally involve two consequences: criminal fines, and/or a jail sentence.  The amount of the fine and the length of the sentence will always depend on the severity of the crime- more serious crimes will result in higher fines and longer jail sentences. 

Also, some theft crimes, like grand theft auto and burglary, can be charged as felonies. In such cases, the defendant would likely have to spend their sentence in a prison facility, rather than a local or county jail.  Also, felonies can result in other consequences like a revoked driver’s license, and the loss of the right to own a firearm. 

How are the Penalties and Sentencing for Theft Determined?

Since there are so many different crimes involving theft, penalties and sentencing for theft can be very different from one case to another.  Penalties and jail sentences can be pre-determined in a criminal statute.  However, courts will often consider the following when determining a sentence for a theft-related crime:

The first of these, the value of the property, is usually given the most importance when defining theft sentences.  In fact, the definition of a certain theft crime may depend on the amount that was stolen.

For instance, many states set a specific dollar amount, such as $1000, as the limit for petty theft.  Any theft for property above $1000 would result in a more serious charge, such as grand theft.  Thus, sentence is generally reflects the amount stolen. 

Can Sentences for Theft Crimes be Increased or Decreased?

Certainly- some of the factors in a theft case can lead to the sentence either being increased or decreased.  Factors that serve to increase a sentence are known as “aggravating factors”.  These include:

Thus, a simple petty theft offense can result in relatively severe sentencing if the defendant had a long record of previous theft offenses.

Similarly, a sentence may be lowered if the defendant was a first-time offender, or if the defendant can raise a viable defense.  This may require skillful research on the part of the defendant’s lawyer. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for Issues With Theft Charges?

Theft charges can become very complicated, especially when it comes to the sentencing phase of trial.  If you are facing charges for a theft-related crime, you have the right to an attorney.  It is important that you work with a criminal defense lawyer for advice and assistance during proceedings.  

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Last Modified: 01-27-2014 11:34 AM PST

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