Every state has theft laws, although they may differ slightly by jurisdiction. Legal consequences for theft usually include:

  • Criminal fines, which are usually proportionate to the amount stolen; higher theft amounts may result in greater fines.
  • Jail or prison sentences, which may increase or decrease in severity according to the amount stolen.
  • Restitution for some theft cases. This may involve the person returning the stolen property or reimbursing the victim for losses caused by theft.

Some other legal consequences for theft may include a loss of rights, such as the right to bear firearms (typically enforced for felony theft crimes).

What Does it Mean to Take the Property of Another?

Theft is defined as the taking of the property of another with the intention of permanently removing it from the other person. The crime of theft is broken down into broad categories. These categories separate the severity of the crime for the purpose of theft sentencing.

These categories include:

  • Petty theft
  • Grand theft
  • Federal grand theft

Sentence length is determined by the type of theft that occurred and the type of property stolen. Theft can be called by many names, including burglary, larceny, embezzlement, looting, robbery, or shoplifting. Each of these terms describes a particular kind of theft. State laws may often vary. Specific state laws may make a sentence for theft more or less severe.

How Does Property Value Affect the Severity of Theft Penalties?

Whether theft is classified as petty theft, grand theft, or grand felony theft is determined by the dollar amount of the stolen property. The dollar amount of the stolen property will typically determine whether misdemeanor or felony charges are brought:

  • Petty Theft. In cases where the stolen property has a relatively low value, petty theft charges may result. States often place a specific dollar figure, such as $500 or $1,000, as the upper limit for petty theft charges. These charges are typically misdemeanors that carry fines or relatively short jail times, typically less than six months, but certainly less than one year.
  • Grand Theft. In cases involving more valuable stolen property, an individual may face “grand theft” charges. Grand theft can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances surrounding the theft. Prosecutors consider the type of property stolen, how the theft occurred, and previous criminal histories. Misdemeanors will have a maximum jail time of less than one year, while a felony charge will carry a minimum jail time of more than one year in state prison.
  • Grand Felony Theft. If a crime is a grand theft felony, this typically means that the threshold dollar amount or the type of property stolen has been met or exceeded. The specific dollar amount of property stolen to be exceeded is state-specific. For instance, Virginia has a threshold of $200, while Arizona has a $1,000 threshold between a misdemeanor and a felony. Felony charges are more serious and typically result in fines, restitution, and jail time.

What Are the Consequences of a Theft Conviction on Your Criminal Record?

Theft is the act of taking personal property with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of the property. If you are found to be guilty of a theft crime, the conviction could result in many consequences.

Those consequences may include:

  • Fines
  • Incarceration
  • Probation
  • Criminal records

Having a criminal record could have serious repercussions that affect the rest of your life.

How Might a Theft Conviction Affect My Employment?

Theft is a moral crime because it involves dishonesty. As a result, potential employers often turn down job applications by those with criminal records. This is especially true if the open position involves an element of trust.

For example, jobs that involve handling money, such as bank telling, require a trustworthy and honest worker. Employers do not want to hire employees that might steal funds for themselves. Therefore, it may be difficult to obtain these types of jobs with a theft conviction on your criminal record.

How Might a Theft Conviction Affect My Ability to Travel to Other Countries?

If you have a criminal record, you may find it difficult to travel to another country. Disclosure of criminal records is a mandatory part of visa applications to some countries. If you have a serious theft charge on your criminal record, you may have difficulty entering another nation. This may be especially true if you are a repeat offender.

How Might a Theft Conviction Affect My Ability to Find Housing?

Shelter is considered a basic human right. However, you may find it more difficult to obtain housing if you have a theft conviction. Prospective landlords want to provide accommodations for reliable tenants that will pay monthly rent installments in a timely fashion.

Many landlords use background checks as part of their rental application process. If a property owner discovers a prior theft conviction on your record, the landlord may not trust you enough to approve your housing request.

How Might a Theft Conviction Affect My Ability to Vote?

The Brennan Center for Justice reports that over five million U.S. citizens have lost their right to vote due to having a criminal record. Thirty-five countries deny convicted felons the right to vote. If having the right to vote is important to you, a theft conviction could prevent you from exercising that right.

How Might a Theft Conviction Affect My Finances?

If you have a felony theft charge on your criminal record, you will likely be denied for financial loans. Financial organizations conduct character assessments and use criminal records to make their loan decisions. You may be able to secure a loan while having a criminal record, but interest rates will generally be very high.

The bottom line is, the repercussions of a theft conviction are reduced to the issue of loyalty. It is much more difficult to be trusted by society after committing a crime of deceit. You may encounter the previously mentioned consequences as you attempt to move forward with your life.

If you are facing a theft change, make sure you do everything in your power to prevent the serious consequences of a criminal record. A knowledgeable, experienced criminal law attorney can help prepare your case.

Are There any Alternative Sentences Available for Theft Crimes?

In some cases, there may be alternative sentencing options for theft crimes. For instance, pre-trial diversion may allow a person to be “diverted” from traditional jail or prison sentences. Instead, the defendant may be allowed to complete community service or other similar programs instead of jail time.

These are typically reserved for:

  • First-time offenders
  • Juvenile offenders
  • Theft crimes where the total value of the property stolen is very low or negligible.

Also, if the defendant has a viable defense for their case, it can assist them in receiving a reduced sentence or dropped charges. A common example of this is where the defendant never took possession of the property in question. This may constitute a lack of proof to serve as a defense against the charges. Again, these types of defenses and arguments will vary from case to case and will also depend on the facts.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Theft Charges?

Defending against theft charges typically requires the guidance and advice of an experienced criminal law attorney. You may wish to hire your own attorney if you need assistance dealing with a criminal theft case. Your lawyer can provide you with legal guidance and representation so that you understand your rights under state and federal laws. Also, your attorney can help you keep pace with any changes during the trial process.