Larceny Theft Lawyers

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 What is the Definition of Larceny Theft?

Larceny is the most common type of what is commonly thought of as theft.

Larceny involves the taking and carrying away, or taking control of, another’s personal physical property (e.g., jewelry or cash) without their authorization or consent and with no intent to return it. (Note that the conditions and exact definition of larceny vary according to state and local statutes.)

Larceny falls under the broader category of theft, which includes taking non-physical things such as intellectual property, financial swindles and tricks, theft of services, and identity theft.

Unlike some forms of theft, larceny is non-violent: there is no threat to the victim’s safety. If a weapon was used, the crime was not larceny but aggravated theft or robbery.

The most common example of larceny is shoplifting. When the shop owner is looking away or absent, taking one of their goods from the shop is larceny. Another common example of larceny is taking office supplies home from the company stockroom without permission.

Are There Different Types of Larceny?

It stands to reason that more significant crimes should result in more significant consequences, so each state has its own distinctions between the levels or degrees of larceny and charges them accordingly.

The term “petty larceny” (sometimes referred to as “petit,” meaning “small”) generally applies to stealing in which the value of the materials stolen is minimal. These crimes are usually charged as misdemeanors. “Felony larceny” refers to crimes in which the value of the stolen property is more significant in either value or manner of theft.

In different ways, the states divide larceny into several subcategories of crimes. These subcategories generally include some form of the following labels:

  • Misdemeanor larceny: Misdemeanor larceny is usually defined as stealing property below a certain dollar amount (e.g., $1,000). The minimum and maximum amounts can vary based on location.
  • Felony larceny: In contrast, felony larceny is stealing property above the misdemeanor amount. Depending on the state, there are various degrees or classes of felony larceny. Some states divide felony larceny into a separate category called grand larceny, which involves a certain higher dollar amount, ranging from $5,000 and greater.
  • Constructive larceny: There are also certain types of larceny where the defendant may have initially received the property legally but later developed a criminal intent to keep it unlawfully. This scenario is known as constructive larceny. It includes embezzlement. Another example would include taking someone’s car or jewelry with permission, ostensibly as a loan but intending to keep it.

In addition to dollar amounts, many states consider the method by which the property was taken when determining whether the larceny is a misdemeanor or felony larceny. If the property was taken directly from a person (as opposed to an empty home or a store) or includes explosives, incendiary devices, or firearms, the crime immediately elevates to a felony.

What are the Penalties for Larceny Theft?

As mentioned, the penalties for larceny are typically based on the value of the property stolen and the method by which it was taken. The first thing to determine is whether the crime was charged as a “misdemeanor” or a “felony.”

A “misdemeanor” is defined as a crime where the maximum institutional punishment is less than a year. Instead of a jail term, or in addition to it, the court may also punish the defendant by ordering them to:

  • Pay a minor fine of up to a specific amount (often $5,0000,);
  • Be on probation, to make restitution to the victim (that is, pay them back); or
  • Do unpaid work in the community (such as cleaning up litter along the road)

Individuals sentenced to incarceration for a misdemeanor usually serve that time in the county jail, as opposed to a state or federal prison.

In contrast, if the defendant is convicted of felony larceny, they will face legal consequences, including much higher fines and serving prison sentences that last for a year or longer. Felony sentences are served in state or federal prison, not jail.

Felony larceny can be divided into separate degrees or categories, such as Class A or Class 1, depending on the value of the property stolen. More serious felony larceny charges (e.g., grand theft auto) may result in longer prison sentences, lasting between 5 to 15 years.

Are There Defenses to Larceny Charges?

A defendant who commits larceny may have several criminal defenses available to claim against their charges. The type of defense that applies and whether or not the defendant is eligible for such an option will depend on the laws and facts involved in each matter.

Larceny is a specific intent crime. This means that a defendant can only be convicted of larceny if they intend to deprive another of their property permanently. If the defendant merely meant to borrow the property for a few minutes or mistakenly thought that it belonged to them, this is not enough to establish larceny. Similarly, an individual cannot accidentally, recklessly, or negligently commit a larceny.

One of the most common defenses is permission. If a defendant received consent from the owner to borrow or take the property, they cannot be charged with larceny because no unlawful taking has occurred. This may occur with office supplies: perhaps the defendant had been told that they could take home pens, paper, and other supplies if they were going to work at home.

Some defendants may use the defense of entrapment against a larceny charge. Entrapment occurs when a police officer persuades a defendant to commit a crime, and the defendant would not otherwise have done so. Thus if a police officer involved in an investigation convinces an informant to steal a necessary piece of evidence, the informant cannot be found guilty of larceny. They committed the crime only at the behest of the officer.

Alternatively, a defendant may get their punishment reduced if they can demonstrate that the dollar amount of the property was less than what has been charged against them. A new car is worth more than a used one, and if the car is used, the penalty will be reduced. A piece of jewelry may not be worth the amount the victim claimed in their report to their insurance agency, and if the defendant has evidence that it was worth a lesser amount, the penalty will likely be reduced.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Larceny Issues?

Given the variety of crimes that can be considered larceny and the varying degrees of punishment associated with these kinds of offenses, it may be in your best interest to hire a local criminal defense attorney in your area if you are facing charges of larceny.

An experienced criminal defense attorney will know what the specific definition of larceny is in your jurisdiction, will be able to determine what your legal options are and the potential penalties you could face, and if there are any options for criminal defenses that may apply to your case.

Additionally, a lawyer can provide representation at any of your court hearings or case-related meetings. Larceny laws can be complex, but a qualified attorney can research the laws and inform you of what your legal rights and options might be moving forward.


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