Simply put, theft refers to taking someone else’s property with the intent to permanently deprive them of that property. However, under the law there are many different levels of theft and distinct crimes that carry a range of penalties. Theft can also be classified as either a felony or misdemeanor depending on the situation.

The level of punishment will depend on the severity of the specific theft charges. For example, stealing a low value item from a retail store will result in lesser charges and penalties than stealing someone’s vehicle. When someone uses weapons or force while perpetrating theft, this will also be classified as a more serious crime.

If you are facing theft charges, then it is important to know the potential penalties and any defenses you may have. This will depend on your state’s laws and the specific theft crime that you were charged with. Also be aware that many states use the term “larceny” instead of theft.

What are Some Examples of Theft?

As noted, there are many different types of theft ranging from minor to serious offenses. Some examples of minor theft include stealing items like lower value jewelry or clothes. This is often classified as petty theft or misdemeanor theft. States are all over the board for what the threshold for this is, however, you will usually not see the value being higher than $1,000.

On the other hand, some examples of more serious theft include stealing items like a car, high value jewelry, or a large sum of cash. State law will classify each offense based on the type of theft involved, value of property stolen, and whether any aggravating factors were present. Stealing more valuable property like this is often referred to as grand theft or grand larceny.

What are the Penalties for Theft?

The penalties for theft will depend on several factors like how severe the crime is, your criminal history, whether a weapon was involved, and property value. Penalties will be higher for felonies and than for misdemeanors.

Additionally, repeat offenders will often receive harsher penalties and less sentencing leniency than if it were your first offense. However, keep in mind that you can have a first offense felony theft charge if the property value is high enough or the type of property involved falls under felony classification in your state.

For example, say you stole a piece of jewelry valued at $150. Under Michigan law you would be charged with petty larceny, which is a misdemeanor offense. The potential penalties would be a small fine and/or imprisonment up to 93 days.

If the jewelry was valued between $200 – $1,000, then you would still be charged with a misdemeanor but could face higher fines (not more than $2,000 or three times the property value) and up to a year of imprisonment.

In Michigan, you will be charged with felony theft if you steal property over $1,000. If the value is between $1,000 – $20,000 or the crime is for theft of a motor vehicle or trailer, then you will receive a felony charge holding penalties of up to five years imprisonment.

You can also receive a fine up to $10,000 or three times the property value. For property valued above $20,000, you will be charged with a felony and face up to ten years in prison. Your fine can be up to $15,000 or three times the property value.

This illustration of Michigan law shows how penalties are tiered for theft crimes. While this is generally based on property value, as you can see some states will deem certain theft to always be a felony regardless of amount. Michigan does this with auto theft crimes, which will always be a felony even if the car is valued under $1,000.

For a prison penalty, your sentence can depend on more than just the property value. Your past criminal history, mitigating factors, whether the theft was petty or grand, aggravating factors (like the use of the weapon), whether someone suffered bodily injury during the crime, and the judge’s preferences can all play a part in your sentence.

Also, the length of a prison sentence for theft is often unpredictable, unless specifically stated in the statute. It is hard to say what a maximum sentence would be since so many factors go into sentencing, however, you will not see a sentence over ten years in most instances unless other crimes accompany the theft, like assault and battery or kidnapping.

Based on all of the above, it is important to know how your specific state classifies theft crimes, as they all vary.

Are There Any Defenses for Theft?

If you are charged with theft, there may be some available defenses you can use in court. What defenses are available will depend on the circumstances of your case. This generally includes:

  • Lack of specific intent;
  • Mistake;
  • True ownership of the property by the defendant; and
  • Authorization to use the property.

These will not always be available and will depend on the facts of your case. Other defenses may be possible as well.

If mitigating factors are present, while not defenses these can sometimes lessen the severity of your punishment for the crime. Some examples of mitigating factors are lack of criminal history, remorse, age, and cooperation.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Have Been Charged with Theft?

Whether you were charged with petty theft or grand theft, a criminal lawyer near you can greatly help with your case. A lawyer can review your charges and answer any questions you may have.

A lawyer can also advise you on your state’s specific theft laws, penalties, and any available defenses. Lastly, a lawyer can represent you in court and try to negotiate the best deal on your behalf.