What is Theft Under Alabama Law?
Alabama law defines theft as “Knowingly obtain[ing] or exert[ing] unauthorized control over the property of another, with intent to deprive the owner of his or her property.” The definition of theft in Alabama also specifically includes:
- using deception to take another’s property
- taking possession of stolen property in the custody of a law enforcement agency, and
- taking property that is left at a drop box belonging to a charitable organization.(Ala. Code § 13A-8-2.)
Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties in Alabama
As is the case in most states, Alabama classifies the offense of theft based on the value of the property involved and, in some cases, the circumstances surrounding the theft. Similarly, sometimes the type of property taken will determine how a theft offense is classified under Alabama law, regardless of the value of the property.
Let’s look at the different classifications of theft in Alabama, and how a theft offense might be punished at each level.
Third Degree Theft in Alabama
If the value of the property involved is less than $500, the offense is third degree theft, the lowest level of classification for theft offenses in the state of Alabama. Under Alabama law, third degree theft is a class A misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of imprisonment for no more than one year. (Ala. Code § 13A-8-5.) A class A misdemeanor conviction under Alabama law also can result in a fine of no more than $6,000. (Ala. Code §13A-5-7.)
Second Degree Theft in Alabama
If the value of the property involved is greater than $500, but not greater than $2,500, the offense is second degree theft, a class C felony in Alabama. And when certain types of property are stolen, regardless of dollar value, the offense is automatically classified as a second degree theft -- this includes the theft of credit or debit cards, firearms, most controlled substances, and livestock. (Ala. Code § 13A-8-4.)
A second degree theft offense is a class C felony in Alabama, which can carry a term of imprisonment of from one year and one day, to up to 10 years. (Ala. Code § 13A-8-4.) A class C felony under Alabama law also may result in a fine of no greater than $15,000. (Ala. Code § 13A-5-6.)
First Degree Theft in Alabama
If the value of the property involved is greater than $2,500, Alabama law considers the offense to be first degree theft, which is a class B felony. And some theft offenses automatically constitute first degree theft, regardless of the value of the property involved, including theft of any motor vehicle and theft of any property taken directly from the person of another. (Ala. Code § 13A-8-3.)
A conviction for a first degree theft offense constitutes a class B felony under Alabama law. A class B felony conviction in Alabama can result in a term of imprisonment ranging from a minimum of two years to a maximum of 20 years. A fine for a class B felony can be no greater than $30,000. (Ala. Code § 13A-5-6.)
Classification of Theft Offenses and Previous Convictions
If a person has a previous conviction for first degree theft or second degree theft in Alabama, any additional offense that involves the theft of property valued at greater than $250, but not greater than $2,500, will automatically constitute second degree theft (discussed in more detail above).
Civil Penalties for Theft Offenses in Alabama
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits a shoplifting theft offense can be held civilly liable under Alabama law. The offender can be ordered to:
- reimburse the store owner for the full retail value of the shoplifted property, if the property is no longer in a sellable condition,
- reimburse the store owner for up to $200 in expenses incurred in trying to recover the shoplifted property, and
- pay up to $1,000 to cover the store owner’s reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in bringing the civil action.
Other Types of Theft Offenses in Alabama
Alabama law has established a number of criminal offenses that involve elements of theft, but that focus on a particular type of property or situation. Examples of those criminal offenses include:
- Theft of lost property
- Theft of services
- Theft of trademarks or trade secrets
- Unauthorized use of vehicle
- Unlawful breaking and entering of a vehicle
- Receiving stolen property
- Obscuring the identity of a vehicle
- Acts which make gas, electricity, or water unlawfully available
The Alabama theft statutes also identify a number of theft crimes related to telecommunications, such as theft of cable television services, computer crimes, and theft of telecommunication devices. Some of these offenses are classified as third degree, second degree, or first degree offenses, similar to the basic offenses of theft detailed above. For more information, conduct additional research or speak to an Alabama criminal defense attorney.
Defenses to Theft Offenses in Alabama
Under Alabama law, it is a defense to a theft-related offense if the person honestly believed, at the time of the alleged offense, that they had a valid claim to the property or services that were taken. If the finder of fact (the jury or a judge sitting without a jury) finds the defense credible, and as a result cannot conclude that every element of the charge has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the result should be a verdict of not guilty.(Ala. Code §13A-8-12.)