Larceny refers to a type of theft crime in which a person takes the property of another person, without their consent, and carries it away with the intention of permanently depriving the legal owner of that property. Under criminal law, property is broadly defined and can be categorized as movable or immovable. 

Some examples of movable property include cars and jewelry, while some examples of immovable property include real property, such as land and things attached to it. Also included in the definition of property are documents, such as stock certificates, and personal services, such as repairs made to your vehicle or restaurant service.

Importantly, every state has its own set of laws and statutes addressing larceny. However, every state will typically recognize larceny as the unauthorized taking and carrying away of the tangible, personal property of another with the intent to permanently deprive that person of their property. 

Larceny is generally classified as a misdemeanor charge, meaning that it is punishable by no more than one year of jail time and a capped fine. However, larceny may be elevated to a felony charge in some jurisdictions if the property stolen was valued above a certain amount. In cases where the value of the stolen property is high, the act of larceny may be considered grand theft.

The penalties for theft in general depend on the circumstances surrounding the theft, including: 

  • The type of property taken;
  • The value of the stolen property; 
  • Whether a weapon or force was used to take the property; and 
  • Whether the victim was injured during the theft. 

For example, shoplifting from a department store would carry very different penalties than an armed robbery of the same store. Shoplifting would likely be considered a misdemeanor, while the latter may be considered a felony.

What Are the Legal Penalties for Larceny?

As previously mentioned, larceny as a theft crime is generally considered to be a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are considered to be less serious crimes than felony charges, and are punishable by criminal fines and/or a jail sentence of less than one year in a county jail. Importantly, misdemeanor sentences may not be served in a state prison facility, as those facilities are generally reserved for felony crimes. Certain types of larceny may be considered even less serious, and result in only a citation or a fine.

As mentioned above, larceny may lead to more serious legal penalties, such as becoming a felony charge or higher class of misdemeanor, under specific circumstances. Felony charges can include a prison sentence of over one year, and/or increased criminal fines. In regards to larceny specifically, the penalties can increase in proportion to the amount of property stolen. As with misdemeanor theft charges, some jurisdictions may create specific categories for felony larceny. One example of a jurisdiction creating specific categories for felony larceny may include the breakdown of the crime into different degrees, such as:

  • Larceny in the third degree for theft up to $5,000;
  • Larceny in the second degree for theft between $5,000-$50,000; and
  • Larceny in the first degree for theft above $50,000.

Aggravating factors are circumstances related to the crime in question that somehow make the crime itself worse. In terms of larceny, more serious legal penalties may result if the following aggravating factors are present:

  • The act was a repeat offense;
  • The act was committed to further a more serious crime; or
  • The act was committed with the use of a deadly weapon. 

The defendant may also have some alternative sentencing options available to them, based on the specifics of their case. This could include completing a community service program as opposed to serving jail time or paying fees. Alternative sentencing takes a more rehabilitative approach. It allows the defendant to avoid some of the more harsh, traditional penalties, and is commonly reserved for first time offenders, petty offenses, and juvenile offenders.

Are There Any Defenses to Larceny Charges?

Every type of theft has specific elements that the prosecution must prove in order for the defendant to be found guilty. With larceny, the prosecution must prove that the intent to commit the crime, or intended for the victim to be injured, was present. If they cannot, the defendant may be able to successfully argue that the prosecution has failed to satisfy their burden.

Other defenses to larceny charges may include:

  • Intoxication, if the defendant can prove that they were intoxicated without their consent;
  • Duress, if the defendant can prove that they would face bodily harm or death from someone else if they did not commit the crime; or
  • Innocence, if there is a witness willing to testify of the defendant’s behalf. For example, a witness stating that they saw the defendant grocery shopping at the time the theft took place would give the defendant both an alibi and a good legal defense. 

In addition to the above listed defenses, the true owner defense may also be utilized if the defendant believed that they were the true owner of the property that they took. An example of this would be accidentally taking someone else’s laptop because it looked like your own. As previously mentioned, the intent to carry away and permanently deprive someone of their property must be present in order to convict someone of committing larceny. 

Therefore, if a defendant only took a laptop away because they thought it was their property, they would lack the intent to permanently deprive someone of their property. Another example of a lack of intent to permanently deprive would be if the defendant was charged with the theft of a cell phone, but only borrowed the phone to make a call because they misplaced their own and fully intended to return the phone to its original owner.

Do I Need an Attorney for Larceny Charges?

Although larceny is one of the more common criminal charges, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Not only will an experienced criminal defense attorney ensure that you understand your state’s specific laws regarding larceny and its classes, they can also help determine if any defenses are available to your case. 

Additionally, they will represent you in court at any necessary court hearings. Finally, an attorney may be able to argue for alternative sentencing.