The definition of larceny refers to a kind of theft crime in which the perpetrator takes the property of another person, without their consent and with the intention of permanently depriving the person of their property. In criminal law, property is broadly defined and can be categorized as movable or immovable. Larceny involves the taking of property that can be carried away, e.g., personal property.
The legal elements of larceny are as follows:
- The perpetrator takes and carries away;
- Personal property that belongs to another person;
- Without the other person’s consent;
- The perpetrator has the intention of permanently depriving the owner of their property.
Larceny is generally understood to be a taking and carrying away of personal property without the use of force, duress or fear as opposed to robbery, which is taking or attempting to take a thing of value by force, threat of force or fear. So, the main difference between larceny versus robbery is the use of force or fear to accomplish the taking in the case of robbery.
Theft is any taking of property of another person without the person’s consent with the intent of depriving the person of the property. Both robbery and larceny are forms of theft. Theft is the categorical term for all crimes of taking property, both personal property and real property. Theft would include all forms of taking, whether it is done by the use of force or fear or through fraud or theft by deception. So larceny is a form of theft.
Some examples of personal property include cars and jewelry, while some examples of immovable property include real property, such as land and things attached to it. Documents, such as stock certificates, and personal services, such as repairs made to a person’s vehicle or restaurant service can also be included in the definition of property.
Importantly, every state has its own laws addressing the crimes of theft, larceny and robbery. However, almost every state will typically identify 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.
Are There Different Types of Larceny?
States define larceny differently and categorize degrees or types of larceny differently. Usually, however, larceny is categorized on the basis of the value of the property that is stolen. So larceny involving items with a higher value is “grand” larceny. “Petit” (or “petty”) larceny is larceny of items of lesser value. Each state decides which value separates grand larceny from petty larceny.
Most states also categorize larceny as felony larceny or misdemeanor larceny. The value of the property stolen may be one factor that determines whether a larceny is a felony or a misdemeanor. But the value of the property stolen is not the only factor. For example, in North Carolina, felony larceny includes the following:
- The theft of goods valued at more than $1,000;
- Theft of property from another person, no matter the value of that property;
- Theft of property in connection to a burglary offense;
- Theft of any explosive or incendiary device or substance, no matter the value, but not including fireworks, gasoline, butane gas, natural gas, or any explosive or incendiary properties that serve legitimate non-destructive and non-legal uses;
- Theft of a firearm, no matter the value;
- Theft of any record or paper in the custody of the North Carolina State Archives.
This list is not exhaustive. There are other theft offenses in North Carolina that are categorized as felony larceny. The point is that the nature of the property and the manner in which it is taken, as well as its value, can affect whether a larceny offense is a felony or a misdemeanor.
What Are the Legal Penalties for Larceny?
As previously mentioned, larceny is generally considered to be a misdemeanor if the value of the property taken is below a certain threshold, e.g. $1,000. Misdemeanors are considered less serious than felonies and are usually punishable by fines and/or a sentence of less than one year in a county jail.
Importantly, misdemeanor sentences may not be served in a state prison, as prison sentences are generally meted out for felony crimes. Some kinds of larceny may be considered even less serious than a misdemeanor and could result in a citation or a fine, much like a speeding ticket.
As mentioned above, grand larceny punishments may be more serious than those for petty larceny. Grand larceny may be charged as a felony, under specific circumstances. The punishments for a felony can include a prison sentence of more than one year, and/or significant fines up to tens of thousands of dollars. The penalties can increase in proportion to the amount of property stolen.
Some states have created specific categories of felony larceny, for example, breaking the crime into degrees of felony larceny, 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 characteristics of the crime in question that make it worse, possibly more dangerous. In terms of larceny, more serious punishments may result if the following aggravating factors are present:
- The perpetrator has prior convictions, so the offense is a repeat of previous crime;;
- The act was committed for the purpose of advancing a more serious crime; or
- A deadly weapon was used in the commission of the offense.
Some alternative sentencing options may be available to the perpetrator upon conviction of the crime, based on the specifics of their case. For example, completing a community service program as opposed to serving jail time or paying fines might be an alternative option. Alternative sentencing allows a person convicted of an offense to avoid some of the harsher, traditional penalties; it is commonly reserved for first time offenders, those convicted of petty offenses, and juvenile offenders.
Are There Any Defenses to Larceny Charges?
Every crime has specific elements that the prosecution must prove in order for the perpetrator to be found guilty. With larceny, the prosecution must prove not only the intent to commit the crime, but also the intent to permanently deprive the victim of their property. If they cannot prove this intent element, the perpetrator 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 perpetrator can prove that they were intoxicated without their consent;
- Duress: if the perpetrator can prove that they would face bodily harm or death from someone else if they did not commit the crime; or
- Innocence by alibi: if there is a witness willing to testify of the perpetrator’s behalf. For example, a witness stating that they saw the perpetrator grocery shopping at the time the theft took place would give the perpetrator an alibi defense.
In addition to these defenses, a defendant can claim that they believed they were the true owner of the property they took. An example of this would be accidentally taking someone else’s laptop because it looked like your own. As explained above, the intent to carry away and permanently deprive someone of their property must be present in order to convict someone of larceny.
Therefore, if a defendant only took a laptop because they thought it was their property, they would lack the intent to permanently deprive someone of their property. Presumably, upon learning that it belongs to someone else, the defendant would return it. Another example of a lack of intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property taken would be a perpetrator charged with the theft of a cell phone who only borrowed the phone to make a call because they misplaced their own. If they willingly return it to its rightful owner, there is no larceny.
Do I Need an Attorney for Larceny Charges?
If you have been charged with larceny, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can ensure that you understand your state’s specific laws regarding larceny and its degrees, they can also help determine if any defenses are available in your case.
Additionally, they will represent you in negotiations with the prosecution and in court at any necessary court hearings. You are most likely to get the best possible outcome if you have an experienced criminal defense attorney representing your interests.