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Grand Theft Defenses

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What Is Grand Theft?

Grand theft is a specific type of theft crime.  Definitions of grand theft may vary according to state or local statutes.  These generally have to do with the amount of property or cash that was stolen.  There may also be varying degrees of grand theft.

For instance, thefts of very small amounts of money (in the 10’s or 100’s of dollars) will usually result in petty theft charges.  However, thefts of property that is worth thousands of dollars may result in grand theft charges, which are more serious.  Some states have dollar amounts corresponding to the degree of seriousness (for instance, $500-$5,000 may be 2nd degree grand theft, $5,000 and above is 1st degree grand theft, etc.)

Grand theft can sometimes refer to certain thefts of automobiles or other vehicles, in which case it is usually called “grand theft auto”.

What Are Some Possible Grand Theft Defenses?

Grand theft charges may be dropped if the defense proves several defenses. Here are some possible defenses that could be asserted by the defendant accused of the crime: 

(1) Petty Theft: main defense to grand theft is that the claim that the amount of property stolen did not actually reach the statutory level to be classified as grand theft.  In such cases, the charges may be reduced to less serious misdemeanor charges rather than felony grand theft.  This can happen for instance if there are wrong calculations or market values involved when analyzing the property stolen.

(2) Lack of Criminal Intent:  In most states, grand theft requires that the person intended to deprive another person of the money or property.  Thus, if the defendant believed that the property was actually theirs, they might not be found guilty of grand theft. 

(3) Property Belonged to You: A defendant can claim that the property stolen actually belonged to himself or herself and "property of another" element of the crime is not present.

(4) Consent: The person who owned the item gave permission or consent for the taking

(5) False Accusation; The defendant was falsely accused of the crime and they did not participate in the theft in anyway.

Other grand theft defenses may include more standard criminal defenses like intoxication, coercion, or a lack of evidence to prove the elements of theft.

What Are Some Penalties for Grand Theft?

Grand theft is generally classified as a felony crime. Grand theft is also considered to be a "wobbler" meaning depending on the situation, the charge can be a misdemeanor or a felony. Usually if the property that is at stake is of high value, the charge would be a felony.

Penalties and sentencing for grand theft may include:

  • Maximum potential sentence for a misdemeanor theft charge is (1) year in county jail
  • Maximum potential sentence for a felony ranges from 16 months to 3 years
  • Probation
  • Fines (value depends on value of property taken)

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Grand Theft Defenses?

As felony charges, grand theft charges are very serious marks on one’s record.  It is in your best interests to hire a qualified criminal law attorney in your area if you need help with grand theft defenses.  Your attorney can instruct you on how to proceed, and can provide you with the proper legal guidance for raising a defense. 

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 11-28-2016 04:42 PM PST

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