Theft occurs whenever a person deprives someone else of their property with the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property.
Grand theft is a serious crime involving stealing valuable property or larger amounts of money. In most jurisdictions, grand theft is a felony. (A felony is any crime that is punishable by more than 1 year in jail or prison; something less than a year is a misdemeanor.) Grand theft is usually defined in state statutes as theft that is worth over a certain amount, anywhere from $500-$5000, depending on the state.
Theft that exceeds the statutory minimum is called “petty theft.” Today, many states have done away with a singular distinction between grand and petty theft. Most impose varying degrees of grand theft penalties rather than just one. Those distinctions are defined by how much money the property was worth.
Determining the value of the stolen property is a key factor. Value is determined through various methods, such as determining the property’s fair market value, the highest reasonable value, or the retail value. Some states allow prosecutors to lump together the value of multiple thefts to determine the crime’s monetary value. This occurs when multiple people steal multiple items as part of the same theft or a single person steals multiple items as part of a single theft plan.
In those states, the law may consider all the property stolen from a single owner, a single location, or as part of a single criminal impulse as a group of items, the value of which is added together to determine if the theft qualifies as grand theft. In other states, the value of multiple items cannot be grouped together if there are different victims or if there is no unifying plan to steal.
Grand theft often overlaps with other types of crimes. White-collar crime (for example, embezzlement) is usually in a large enough amount of money to constitute grand theft. Robbery (theft involving the use of force) can be grand theft. Grand theft auto is a separate crime that specifically involves the theft of an automobile.
What Types of Property are Treated Differently?
Grand theft can occur if a specific type of property is taken, even if that property is not worth the minimum dollar amount usually required for grand theft. The types of property that may qualify as grand theft differ from state to state but typically include automobiles, firearms, farm animals, and crops.
Is Grand Theft a Felony?
As mentioned, grand theft will usually result in felony charges. Some states categorize high-value thefts into degrees, such as 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-degree grand theft. For instance, 3rd-degree grand theft may cover theft cases ranging from $500 to $2,999; 2nd-degree may cover $3,000-$49,999, and 1st-degree covers cases involving $50,000 and up.
Again, such figures will be different in each jurisdiction. Penalties and sentencing time for grand theft usually depend on, among other factors, the total amount stolen.
How is Stolen Property Valued?
In grand theft cases, determining the value of stolen objects is a key factor. Prosecutors must be able to prove that the stolen property exceeds the grand theft minimum; otherwise, the accused person cannot be convicted of grand theft.
A variety of methods determines property value. Fair market value, the highest reasonable or retail value, may determine property value.
Which Office Prosecutes a Grand Theft Case?
The district attorney’s office typically handles felonies. The city attorney’s office typically handles misdemeanors. Some jurisdictions only have a district attorney’s office. In those cases, the district attorney handles both felonies and misdemeanors.
What if I Believed the Property Belonged to Me?
If you are accused of grand theft and the property actually belonged to you, or if you honestly but mistakenly thought the property you took belonged to you, you will generally not be found guilty of grand theft. In addition, if you intended to re-claim something you thought was yours, you would not be found guilty of grand theft.
What if I Had Consent From the Owner?
If the property owner permitted you to take the property, you will not be found guilty of grand theft. For example, suppose your neighbor permitted you to borrow a lawnmower, then accuses you of stealing the lawnmower. You are not guilty of grand theft since you had permission to borrow the item.
What Are the Penalties for Grand Theft?
If you’ve been charged with grand theft, you may face any of the following consequences:
- Prison time: For misdemeanor theft convictions, a court may sentence you to up one year in jail. Felony convictions for grand theft can result in much harsher penalties, including 5 to 20 years in prison or more.
- Fines: You may have to pay a significant fine if you’re convicted of grand theft. Misdemeanor fines are typically less than $1,000, but fines for felonies may exceed $100,000.
- Restitution: The court will typically require you to pay restitution and fines when you are convicted of stealing something. Restitution costs are paid directly to the owner of the stolen property, while fines are paid to the state as a penalty. Restitution payments are usually equal to the value of the stolen property.
- Permanent record: Another type of penalty is that felony charges are difficult to have expunged from one’s criminal record. That may make it difficult for the person to obtain employment or some benefits.
- Community service: The court may require that the defendant perform community service instead of, or in addition to, any other penalty. Often the choice of type of service depends upon the nature of the underlying case. If the defendant steals a car, for example, they may be required to pick up garbage on the side of the highway.
- Probation: A court may also order a person convicted of grand theft to serve probation once released (or instead of prison). While on probation, a person may be required to meet regularly with a probation officer, find or maintain employment, and pay all fines and restitution within a certain amount of time. Those on probation cannot steal anything else or commit any more crimes. If they do, they will automatically be sentenced to more prison time.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Grand Theft Charges?
Grand theft charges are very serious, and grand theft laws are complex because they vary from state to state. For these reasons, it’s in your best interests to hire an experienced criminal lawyer in your area if you or a loved one of yours is facing grand theft charges.
Your attorney will know the definition of grand theft in your state and will be able to gather evidence of a defense, such as mistaken identity or permission. Often, the lawyer will obtain an independent valuation of the property. If it’s worth less than the prosecutor claims, you may receive a misdemeanor charge instead of a felony.
The lawyer will negotiate on your behalf and represent you in court if necessary.