Pennsylvania Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws

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Defining Theft Under Pennsylvania Law

Pennsylvania defines its theft offenses according to whether the theft involves property that is movable and tangible on the one hand, or immovable and intangible on the other.

Movable property. Under Pennsylvania law, a person is guilty of theft of movable property if he or she unlawfully takes -- or exercises unlawful control over -- movable property owned by another person, with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. An item in a store would be considered movable property, so the classic example of this kind of theft is shoplifting.

Immovable property. A person is guilty of theft of immovable property in Pennsylvania if he or she unlawfully transfers -- or exercises unlawful control over -- immovable property owned by another person, or any interest in that immovable property, with the intent to benefit himself or a third party. The object of this kind of theft might be an interest in real estate.

You’ll find these definitions of theft, and more information, in Pennsylvania’s criminal statutes at 18 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 3921.

Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties in PA

Pennsylvania classifies most theft offenses according to the value of the property taken, and sometimes by the circumstances surrounding the offense. Let’s take a closer look at each level of theft in Pennsylvania. (Note: The classifications below pertain to run-of-the-mill theft offenses. Thefts involving aggravating circumstances -- where property is taken directly from another person, or by threat, or in breach of a fiduciary obligation -- will result in more serious charges and harsher fines not covered here.)

Misdemeanor in the Third Degree Theft. If the value of the property involved is less than $50, the offense constitutes a misdemeanor of the third degree under Pennsylvania law. (18 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 3903.)  

A misdemeanor in the third degree carries a maximum sentence of one year of incarceration and a fine of no more than $2,500. (§ 1103, § 1101.)

Misdemeanor in the Second Degree Theft. If the value of the property involved is more than $50, but less than $200, the offense constitutes a misdemeanor of the second degree under Pennsylvania law. (18 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 3903.) Conviction for a misdemeanor in the second degree in Pennsylvania can result in a sentence of two years of incarceration, and a fine of no more than $5,000. (§ 1103, § 1101.)

Misdemeanor in the First Degree Theft. Theft that does not otherwise qualify as a felony under Pennsylvania law constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree, so long as the property is valued at more than $200. (18 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 3903.) A misdemeanor in the first degree under Pennsylvania law can result in a sentence of incarceration of five years, and a fine of no more than $10,000. (§ 1103, § 1101.)

Felony in the Third Degree Theft. Theft constitutes a felony of the third degree under Pennsylvania law if the value of the property involved in the theft exceeds $2,000, or if the property stolen is an automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat or other motor-propelled vehicle.

Theft by receiving stolen property is also a felony of the third degree in Pennsylvania if the receiver is in the business of buying or selling stolen property. (18 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 3903.)

A person who is convicted of a felony in the third degree in Pennsylvania can receive a sentence of imprisonment of no more than seven years, and a fine of no more than $15,000. (§ 1103, § 1101 .)

Felony in the Second Degree Theft. Theft constitutes a felony of the second degree under Pennsylvania law if:

  • the offense is committed during a manmade disaster, a natural disaster or a war-caused disaster and constitutes a violation of § 3921 (relating to theft by unlawful taking or disposition), § 3925 (relating to receiving stolen property), § 3928 (relating to unauthorized use of automobiles and other vehicles) or § 3929 (relating to retail theft)
  •  the property stolen is a firearm
  • in the case of theft by receiving stolen property, the property received, retained or disposed of is a firearm, or
  • the property stolen is any amount of anhydrous ammonia. (18 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 3903.)

A person convicted of a felony of the second degree under Pennsylvania law faces a term of imprisonment of no more than ten years, and a fine of no more than $25,000. (§ 1103, § 1101.)

Felony in the First Degree Theft. Theft constitutes a felony of the first degree if, in the case of theft by receiving stolen property, the property received, retained or disposed of is a firearm and the receiver is in the business of buying or selling stolen property. (18 Pa. Const. Stat. Ann. § 3903.) If a person commits a felony of the first degree, the court may sentence the person to a term of imprisonment of no more than 20 years, and a fine of no more than $25,000. (§ 1103, § 1101.)

by: , J.D.

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