The crime of theft is the taking of another’s property without their authorization or permission. To constitute theft, the taking must be made with the intent to permanently deprive the victim of the property. Many state laws characterize theft as being either petty theft or grand theft. Of the two, grand theft constitutes the more serious crime. A grand theft crime involves the stealing of property that is worth more than property stolen in a petty theft.
Typically, theft of property worth more than five hundred dollars, or, in some states, one thousand, is considered to be grand theft. Grand theft is generally punishable as a felony. A felony is a crime that carries a prison term of over one year. There are various defenses to the crime of grand theft.
State laws regard certain crimes as grand theft. For example, in New York, the following takings are considered to be grand theft (referred to in New York as “grand larceny”):
- Property obtained by extorting another (extortion is the taking of property by means of threats to do harm or expose information);
- Property taken from another’s person;
- The taking of a motor vehicle whose value is over $100;
- The theft of a debit or credit card;
- Scientific material that is secret; and
- Any property valued at over $1,000.00
For theft that involves property with a monetary value above a certain amount, such as “property valued at over $1,000.00), the value must be determined. The value is usually considered to be the market value for the property stolen, at the time the theft took place.
A grand theft conviction carries a prison term of anywhere from one year to five years, depending upon the state in which the crime took place. A convicted defendant may also be fined. The amount of the fine depends upon the value of the property the defendant stole. The defendant may be ordered to pay restitution. Restitution is payment designed to compensate for financial loss.
For example, if a defendant commits grant theft and damages the property, thereby lowering its value, the defendant can be ordered to return the property and to pay for the cost of repairs.
A defendant charged with grand theft assert certain defenses. These defenses include:
- The prosecution has not proven the elements of the offense: This means the prosecution has failed to prove one or more of the following:
- The taking was unauthorized. For example, if the taking was made with permission, the taking was authorized;
- The offender did not specifically intend to permanently deprive the victim of the property. Therefore, when a defendant, at the time of the taking, decides they only want to steal the property for a short period of time, the intent to permanently deprive is missing. In such an instance, defendant’s actions may still constitute a crime, or defendant may be sued in civil court. However, a defendant has not committed theft or larceny, because the intent to permanently deprive is not present; or
- The theft constitutes petty theft, not grand theft. If, for example, a defendant can show at their trial that the value of the property they stole is under the amount required to have committed grand theft, then the defendant has not committed petty theft, not grand theft.
- In cases where the value of the property is disputed by the prosecution and the defense, each side can present evidence as to what they believe the market value of the property is. If the judge rules that defendant’s evidence showing the property is below the grand theft minimum amount is more persuasive than the prosecution’s evidence is, the defendant will be sentenced for petty theft, instead of grand theft, assuming the prosecution has established all other elements of the crime.
- Lack of intent to steal: If defendant took the property in the belief that the property was theirs, the intent to steal the property of another is not present. A grand theft conviction requires that a defendant intended to permanently deprive another person of property at the time of taking. If the defendant intends to merely borrow the property, or to keep the property as repayment of a debt, the defendant has not committed grand theft. In addition, the defendant cannot be found guilty if the taken property is abandoned. The defendant may also be found not guilty if the defendant took the property with the intent to pay for it (if it is for sale) at a later time.
If you are charged with grand theft, you should contact a criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate your case, assist you with preparing your defense, and represent you in court.