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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. This definition is full of elements, each of which must be present for theft to occur.

What Is the "Wrongfulness" Element?

When you take and carry something away, it only constitutes theft if it is wrongful. If you do not have a right to the property, your taking of it is wrongful.

What Is a "Taking?"

A taking occurs when you have some amount of control over the property, even if briefly. You can have control over property without even touching it. For example, if you sell someone's car, you have taken the car, even if you didn't touch it. You don't need to actually touch something to take it.

How Do I "Carry Away" Something?

The carrying away element is met when the property is moved, even slightly, from its original place. Simply shuffling or rearranging property will not usually constitute carrying away, but even a slight movement can satisfy this requirement.

What Kinds of "Property" Count?

For there to be a theft, some property must be taken and carried away. Property used to only include moveable property, but modern statutes have made it such that most everything can be considered property. A list of the main types of property includes: 

What Does It Mean for the Property to Be "Of Another?"

Property is of another if it is someone else's property (i.e., not yours). This is one of the simpler elements of theft. It just means the property belongs to someone else and has not been abandoned.

When Do I Have the "Intent to Deprive Permanently?"

In order for your wrongful taking and carrying away of the property of another to constitute theft, you must intend to take the property from the owner and make it yours.  It is not theft if you just intend to borrow the property (although that does not necessarily mean you are off the hook either). Also, in many states, if there is a substantial risk of loss involved with your taking (e.g., in joyriding cases), then the requisite intent is implied from the taking.

Is Theft a Felony or Misdemeanor?

The answer to this question usually depends on the value of the property that is taken. In most states, if the value is over $400 it is considered grand theft and is a felony. Theft of property valued at $400 or less is usually petty theft and is a misdemeanor.

I've Been Accused of Theft, Do I Need a Lawyer?

Anytime you are accused of a crime you should consult a lawyer as soon as possible. There are many different types of theft and each entails its own defenses. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can advise you of your rights and defenses and help you with the complicated legal system.

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Last Modified: 04-23-2014 10:40 AM PDT

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