Defining Theft Under Wisconsin Law
Wisconsin criminal statutes on theft contain a lengthy list of all acts that constitute the offense in the state, including:
- intentionally taking the property of another without the owner’s consent, and with the intent of permanently depriving the owner
- converting to a person’s own use the property of another as a result of the person’s office or position, without the owner’s consent
- taking property from another who has a right to possession of the property, intentionally and without consent
- obtaining title to another’s property by intentionally deceiving the person with a false representation, made with intent to defraud, or
- intentionally failing to return any personal property in the person’s possession due to a lease or rental agreement. (Wis. Stat. § 943.20.)
Theft Offenses and Penalties in Wisconsin
Like many states, Wisconsin classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the property or services stolen -- and in some cases, according to the type of property involved in the theft. As a result, a theft in Wisconsin can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, and can result in the payment of fines, imprisonment, or both. And in addition to fines and possible imprisonment in a shoplifting case, a judge may order that a shoplifting offender pay restitution to the store owner for any losses caused by the shoplifting. (Wis. Stat. § 943.50.)
Let’s take a closer look at different theft offenses in the state of Wisconsin.
Class A Misdemeanor Theft. In Wisconsin, theft is a class A misdemeanor if the value of the property or services stolen does not exceed $2,500. (§ 943.20(3).) The punishment for a class A misdemeanor in Wisconsin can include a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment for no more than nine months, or both. (§ 939.51(3)(a).)
Class I Felony Theft. Theft is a class I felony if the value of the property or services stolen is greater than $2,500, but is less than $5,000. The punishment for a class I felony in Wisconsin includes a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment of no more than three years and six months, or both. (§ 939.50(3)(i).)
Class H Felony Theft. Theft in Wisconsin is a class H felony if the value of the property or services stolen is more than $5,000, but less than $10,000, or if the property is a firearm or domestic animal of any value. The punishment for a class H felony in Wisconsin includes a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment for no more than six years, or both. (§ 939.50(3)(h).)
Class G Felony Theft. In Wisconsin, theft is a class G felony if the value of the property or services stolen exceeds $10,000. (§ 943.20(3).) The punishment for a class G felony in Wisconsin includes a fine of no more $25,000, imprisonment for a term not to exceed 10 years, or both. (§ 939.50(3)(g).)
Civil Penalties for Theft in Wisconsin
In addition to any criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting (or the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits shoplifting) may be civilly liable to the store owner for:
- the retail value of the merchandise (unless returned undamaged), plus any other actual damages caused by the shoplifter
- exemplary damages or a civil penalty equal to three times the total amount of the retail value of the merchandise, and
- the store owner’s costs associated with bringing the civil action, including reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees.
However, the total amount awarded for exemplary damages and reasonable attorney fees cannot exceed $500 for each shoplifting violation.
With respect to a juvenile shoplifter, a parent or legal guardian also may be liable to the store owner, but only for exemplary damages or a civil penalty equal to two times the total amount of the retail value of the merchandise. Furthermore, the total amount awarded for exemplary damages and reasonable attorney fees cannot exceed $300 for each shoplifting violation if liability is against the parent or legal guardian of a juvenile shoplifter. (§ 943.51.)
Effect of Prior Convictions on Theft Charges in Wisconsin
The effect of prior convictions on a current theft charge in the state of Wisconsin is not specifically covered in Wisconsin statutes on theft. However, Wisconsin law does authorize harsher punishments for "habitual criminality," and any criminal conviction on an offender’s record will almost surely result in a harsher punishment at sentencing time. For more information on this topic, you can conduct your own legal research or speak to a Wisconsin criminal law attorney.