Theft and thievery have been around for as long as mankind has believed in the idea of individual property and property rights. Today, states differentiate the various kinds of theft into different categories. In some states, the category of “grand theft” is used to describe theft of personal or tangible property in excess of a specific dollar amount.
Theft, Grand Theft, Petit Theft, and Larceny
A theft occurs whenever a person deprives someone else of his or her property with the intention to permanently deprive the owner of its possession. In the law the word “theft” is often used to describe a wide range of crimes that involve the taking of property. For example, embezzlement, extortion, receiving stolen property, and unauthorized use of property can all be considered theft. However, grand theft typically applies to what is known as larceny, the theft of personal or tangible property.
Traditionally, states differentiated between two types of larceny: grand and petit (or petty) larceny. These two types of larceny crimes were based on the value of the property stolen, with grand theft applying when the property was more valuable than a specific dollar amount as identified by law.
Today, most states have theft or larceny laws that do away with the distinction between grand theft and petty theft, though all states have laws that impose varying degrees of penalties based on the value of the property.
Grand theft is considered a more serious theft offense because the property stolen is highly valuable. How much the property must be worth before the crime is considered a grand theft instead of a petit theft differs between states. For example, in many states the difference between petty theft and grand theft is $500. This means that someone who steals property worth $499 commits a petty theft, while someone who steals property worth $500 commits grand theft.
In many grand theft cases, determining the value of the stolen object is a key factor. A prosecutor must be able to prove that the stolen property exceeds the grand theft minimum or the accused cannot be convicted of grand theft. Value is determined through a variety of methods, such as determining the property's fair market value, the highest reasonable value, or the retail value.
Types of Property
Grand theft can also occur if a specific type of property is stolen, even if that property is not worth the minimum amount required for grand theft. The types of property that qualify as grand or felony theft differs between states, but typically includes automobiles, firearms, or farm animals.
Multiple Items or Collaborators
In some theft crimes, multiple people work together to steal items, or a single person steal multiple items as part of the same theft. In some states, the law may consider all the property stolen from a single owner, a single location, or as part of a single criminal impulse as a group of items. In these states, the value of the individual items is added together to determine of the theft qualifies as grand theft. In other states, the value of multiple items cannot be grouped together if there are different victims or there was no unifying plan to steal.
State theft laws often provide for different degrees of severity of grand theft, with higher degrees representing more significant crimes and coming with more significant penalties. For example, a state may punish grand theft in the first degree as any theft of property valued at more than $100,000. Grand theft in the second degree, a less serious charge, might apply whenever the value of the property is between $50,000 and $100,000. Third-degree grand theft would apply when the property is worth anything above the minimum amount of $500 up to $50,000.
Traditionally, grand theft was considered a felony offense, meaning the potential punishment for conviction included a year or more in prison. Today, state theft laws may still use the term grand theft, but grand theft is not always considered a felony and can be a misdemeanor offense.
- Jail or prison. For misdemeanor convictions of grand theft, a court can sentence you to up to a year in jail, while felony convictions for grand theft can last much longer. In cases where the theft involved incredibly valuable property or where the person convicted is a repeat offender, sentences of five to 20 years or more are possible.
- Fines. Being convicted of grand theft can also result in having to pay a significant fine. Misdemeanor fines are typically less than $1,000, while felony fines can exceed $100,000.
- Restitution. Whenever you are convicted of stealing something, the courts will typically require you to pay restitution in addition to fines. Restitution is paid directly to the property owner, while a fine is paid to the state as a penalty. Restitution is usually equal to the value of the stolen property.
- Probation. A court may also order a person convicted of grand theft to serve a period of probation. Probation will usually last for least 12 months, though sentences of three years or more are also possible. While on probation a person must meet specified requirements, such as meeting regularly with a probation officer, finding or maintaining employment, paying all fines and restitution within a certain amount of time, and not stealing anything else or committing any more crimes.
Consult an Attorney
Being charged with grand theft is always a significant event even if you have never been in trouble with the law before. A conviction for a felony theft crime will make your life much more difficult even if you are not sentenced to a lengthy prison term. You need to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney whenever you are charged with grand theft. These crimes are highly dependent on the laws of your state as well as the evidence the prosecution can bring against you. Only an experienced attorney in your area can evaluate your case in light of the law, the evidence, as well as his or her experience with the local criminal justice system.