Defining Theft Under Rhode Island Law
The crime of theft in Rhode Island can generally be defined as the wrongful taking of anything of value, with the intent to deprive the true owner of the thing taken. Rhode Island criminal statutes specifically prohibit the stealing of various types of property, including money, goods, chattel, notes for payment of money, bank bills, any certificate of stock, bonds, bills, and promissory notes. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-41-1.) Rhode Island laws also identify a few specific theft offenses, including:
- receiving stolen goods (§ 11-41-2.)
- embezzlement and fraudulent conversion (§ 11-41-3.)
- obtaining property by false pretenses (§ 11-41-4.)
- larceny from the person (§ 11-41-7.), and
- stealing of animals (§ 11-41-8.).
Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties in Rhode Island
Like most states, Rhode Island categorizes theft offenses according to the value of the property involved in the theft, and in some cases by the type of property involved. Let’s take a closer look at each level of theft, starting with misdemeanor theft or larceny, which is the lowest level of theft under Rhode Island law.
Misdemeanor Theft in Rhode Island. Theft (referred to as “larceny” in Rhode Island) is a misdemeanor when the value of the property or services taken is no more than $500.
In Rhode Island, misdemeanor theft (sometimes referred to as “petty theft”) is punishable by imprisonment for no more than one year or a fine of no more than $500, or both. The punishment for misdemeanor theft may be enhanced if property is taken from a victim who is under 18 years of age or is 65 years of age or older. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-41-5(a).)
Felony Theft in Rhode Island. Theft or larceny is a felony in Rhode Island when the value of the property or services taken is more than $500, or when the property taken is a firearm of any value.
Felony theft in Rhode Island is punishable by imprisonment for no more than 10 years or a fine of no more than $5,000, or both. The punishment for felony theft may be enhanced if property is taken from a victim who is under 18 years of age or is 65 years of age or older. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-41-5(a).)
Civil Penalties for Theft in Rhode Island
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting in Rhode Island may be held civilly liable to the store owner for money damages, including:
- an amount valued at no more than the full retail value of the merchandise stolen, if the goods are not recovered in sellable condition
- an additional penalty of up to $100, and
- reimbursement of the store owner's court costs in bringing the civil action. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-41-28(a).)
Effects of Prior Convictions on Current Theft Charge in Rhode Island
For theft offenses in general in the state of Rhode Island, any criminal conviction on an offender's criminal record -- for a theft-related offense or for any other misdemeanor or felony -- will almost certainly mean harsher punishments at sentencing time.
Rhode Island shoplifting statutes specifically provide for more severe penalties based on an offender’s previous convictions for shoplifting. A shoplifting offense is usually considered a misdemeanor in Rhode Island -- punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of $50, or twice the full retail value of the merchandise, whichever is greater (although the fine cannot exceed $500). However, if a person shoplifts merchandise with a retail value over $100, and the person has a previous shoplifting conviction, the offense becomes a felony, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to 5 years and/or a fine not to exceed $5,000. (R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-41-20(d).)
For more information, you can conduct your own legal research or speak to a Rhode Island criminal law attorney to understand how prior theft-related convictions, or any prior criminal convictions, may affect a subsequent theft charge.