Defining Theft in Indiana
Under Indiana law, a person commits theft when he or she "knowingly or intentionally" exerts "unauthorized control" over another person's property, with the intent to deprive the other person of the value or use of the property. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-2.)
So, what does "unauthorized control" mean? According to Indiana law, a person’s control over property is "unauthorized" if it it is exerted under one of the following conditions (among others):
- without the property owner’s consent
- in a way that is different from that to which the property owner has consented
- by creating or confirming a false impression in the property owner, or
- by promising performance that the offender knows will not be performed. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-1.)
Classification and Penalties for Theft in Indiana
Prosecutors in Indiana have the discretion to charge most theft-related offenses as either "conversion" (a Class A misdemeanor) or “theft” (a Class D felony). (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-2, § 35-43-4-3).
Unlike many other states, Indiana does not make any formal distinction among theft offenses (conversion or theft) based purely on the value of the property.
Indiana law also establishes advisory sentences for each level of felony offense. An advisory sentence is a guideline sentence that a court may voluntarily consider, which falls midway between the minimum sentence and the maximum sentence for the offense. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-2-1.3.)
Let’s take a closer look at the different levels of theft-based offenses in the state of Indiana.
Class A Misdemeanor Theft in Indiana. There is no "petty theft" statute in Indiana. Rather, Indiana law refers to this level of theft offense as “conversion,” which is a Class misdemeanor. A person who commits a Class A misdemeanor may receive a term of imprisonment of not more than one year, as well as a fine of not more than $5,000. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-3-2.) The court may suspend any portion of a Class A misdemeanor sentence. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-3-1.)
Class D Felony Theft in Indiana
Most routine theft cases are charged as Class D felonies under Indiana law. Auto theft and receiving stolen auto parts also are crimes classified as Class D felonies in Indiana. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-2.5.)
A person who commits a Class D felony will receive a sentence of imprisonment that ranges between six months and three years, with the advisory sentence being one and one-half years. The court may suspend any portion of a Class D felony theft conviction, unless fewer than three years have elapsed since the person was released from probation, parole, or incarceration for a prior unrelated felony. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-5-2.) In that case, the sentence of imprisonment may be suspended only if home detention is ordered. In addition, the person may have to pay a fine of not more than $10,000. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-2-7.)
If a person has committed a Class D felony, the court may decide to show leniency by entering judgment of conviction as a Class A misdemeanor, and sentencing the person accordingly. Such leniency is not an option if, within the previous three years, the person has committed a prior, unrelated felony for which judgment was entered as a conviction of a Class A misdemeanor.
Class C Felony Theft in Indiana. A theft offense will rise to the level of a Class C felony if the theft (or the theft-related offense of receiving stolen property), involves one or more of the following:
- motor vehicle theft
- property valued at over $100,000, or
- certain valuable metals taken from a public utility, transportation system, telecommunications provider, or hospital, when the absence of the metal creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to a person. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-2.)
A person who commits a Class C felony will receive a term of imprisonment of between two and eight years, with the advisory sentence being four years. Any portion of the sentence of imprisonment ordered for a Class C felony may be suspended, unless fewer than seven years have elapsed since the person was discharged from incarceration, probation, or parole for a prior unrelated felony. In addition, the person may receive a fine of not more than $10,000. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-2-6.)
Civil Liability for Conversion in Indiana
Prosecutors typically charge most minor shoplifting offenses as "conversion" under Indiana law, a Class A misdemeanor (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-3.) Additionally, a company or store owner victimized by shoplifting may bring a civil action against a person who has committed shoplifting, or against the parent or legal guardian of a minor who has committed shoplifting. In this case, the amount of monetary damages awarded to the store owner will be no more than three times the amount of actual losses, plus reimbursement for the costs of bringing the action and reasonable attorneys' fees. (Ind. Code Ann. § 34-24-3-1.)
Effect of Prior Convictions on Theft Charges in Indiana
A theft offense in Indiana will almost certainly result in a Class D felony charge if, within the previous three years, the person has committed a prior, unrelated felony for which judgment was entered as a conviction of a Class A misdemeanor. Additionally, some crimes that normally qualify as Class D felonies -- such as auto theft -- become Class C felonies when the person has a prior conviction for the same crime or any theft-related offense. Conduct your own legal research or speak to an Indiana criminal law attorney to understand more about the impact of prior theft-related convictions on a subsequent theft charge.