Defining Theft Under Kentucky Law
Kentucky criminal statutes say that a person commits theft by either:
• taking or exercising control over the property of another person, with the intent to deprive that person of the property, or
• obtaining the property of another (or any interest in the property) with the intent to benefit himself or another person, without entitlement to do so. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.030(1).)
Kentucky law also defines a number of more specific theft offenses, including:
• theft by deception (514.040.)
• theft of lost property, or property that has been delivered by mistake (514.050.)
• theft of services (514.060.)
• theft by extortion (514.080.)
• unauthorized use of an automobile (514.100.)
• receiving stolen property (514.110.), and
• identity theft (514.160.)
Classification and Punishment for Theft in Kentucky
Like most states, Kentucky classifies any theft offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony. That distinction (between misdemeanor theft and felony theft) is based on the dollar value of the property taken -- and in some cases, on the type of property involved. For example, Kentucky law singles out firearms and anhydrous ammonia as types of property that rise to the level of a felony when they are the subject of a theft, regardless of dollar value.
Let’s take a closer look at the different ways in which theft offenses are classified and punished under Kentucky law.
Class A Misdemeanor Theft in Kentucky. Theft is considered a Class A misdemeanor under Kentucky law when the property taken is valued at less than $500 (assuming that the property is not a firearm and is not anhydrous ammonia, which can be used to manufacture methamphetamine). (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.030(2)(a),(b).) For a Class A misdemeanor conviction, an offender faces incarceration for a term not to exceed 12 months, and a fine of not more than $500. (532.090(1) and 534.040(2)(a).) Class A misdemeanor theft is the lowest level of theft in the state of Kentucky, and is often referred to as petty theft.
Class D Felony Theft in Kentucky. Theft is a Class D felony in Kentucky if the offense involves property valued at at least $500 but not more than $10,000, or if the property is a firearm of any value, or anhydrous ammonia, which can be used to manufacture methamphetamine. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.030(2)(a),(b). The theft of anhydrous ammonia becomes a Class B felony if the offender also intended to manufacture methamphetamine, and theft of anhydrous ammonia will be charged as a Class A felony when the offender's record includes a prior conviction for the same offense. Identity theft is also classified as a Class D felony. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.160.) A Class D felony theft conviction in Kentucky carries a sentence of imprisonment of not less than one year and not more than five years, plus a fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $10,000, or double the amount of gain from the commission of the offense, whichever is greater. (534.030(1), 532.060(2)(d).)
Class C Felony Theft in Kentucky. Theft is a Class C felony if it involves property valued at $10,000 or more. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.030(2)(c).) For a Class C felony, an offender can face a term of incarceration of not less than five years and not more than ten years, plus a fine of at least $1,000 but not more than $10,000, or double the amount of gain from the commission of the offense, whichever is greater. (534.030(1) and 532.060(2)(c).)
Defenses to Theft Under Kentucky Law
Kentucky statutes identify a few specific defenses to theft, including a claim that, at the time of the offense, the defendant was unaware that the property or service actually belonged to another person. A person who has been charged with theft may also be able to prove that they took property for sale while intending to purchase and pay for it promptly, or that they reasonably believed that the owner of the property, if present, would have consented to the taking of the property. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.020(1).)
Conversely, Kentucky law specifically states that a person usually cannot escape a theft charge by arguing that the property belonged to his or her spouse. However, if the theft involved household and personal effects or other property that is normally accessible to both spouses, the act constitutes theft under Kentucky law only if the property belongs to the offender’s spouse, and the spouses no longer live together. (514.020(2).)
Effect of Previous Convictions on Theft Charges
While Kentucky does not have a general statute that addresses the effect of previous convictions on a later theft charge, some of the theft offense statutes do provide more severe consequences for offenders whose records include prior convictions for the same theft offense. For instance, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle is normally charged as a Class A misdemeanor, but if the offender has a previous conviction for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, then the offense rises to the level of a Class D felony. (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 514.100(2).)