Laws on Grand Theft

Grand theft typically refers to felony theft.

By , J.D.
Updated June 08, 2022

Theft and thievery have been around for as long as mankind has believed in the idea of individual property and property rights. Today, states differentiate the various kinds of theft into different categories. In some states, the category of "grand theft" is used to describe theft of personal or tangible property in excess of a specific dollar amount.

What Is Grand Theft?

A theft occurs whenever a person deprives someone else of his or her property with the intention to permanently deprive the owner of its possession. In the law, the word "theft" is often used to describe a wide range of crimes that involve the taking of property. For example, embezzlement, extortion, receiving stolen property, and unauthorized use of property can all be considered theft. However, grand theft typically applies to what is known as larceny, the theft of personal or tangible property.

Traditionally, states differentiated between two types of larceny: grand and petit (or petty) larceny. These two types of larceny crimes were based on the value of the property stolen, with grand theft applying when the property was more valuable than a specific dollar amount as identified by law.

Today, many states have theft or larceny laws that do away with a singular distinction between grand theft and petty theft. States might still use the term grand theft but, even in these states, most impose varying degrees of grand theft penalties rather than just one.

Where's the Line Between Grand Theft and Petty Theft?

Grand theft is considered a more serious theft offense because the property stolen is highly valuable based on monetary value or type of property.

Monetary Thresholds: Value of the Property

How much the property must be worth before the crime is considered a grand theft instead of a petit theft differs between states. In many states, that amount is somewhere along the lines of $1,000 to $5,000. Say the monetary threshold between grand theft and petty theft is $2,500. This means that someone who steals property worth $2,499 commits petty theft, while someone who steals property worth $2,500 commits grand theft.

Valuing property. In many grand theft cases, determining the value of the stolen object is a key factor. A prosecutor must be able to prove that the stolen property exceeds the grand theft minimum or the accused cannot be convicted of grand theft. Value is determined through a variety of methods, such as determining the property's fair market value, the highest reasonable value, or the retail value.

Theft spree. In some theft crimes, multiple people work together to steal items, or a single person steals multiple items as part of the same theft. In some states, the law may consider all the property stolen from a single owner, a single location, or as part of a single criminal impulse as a group of items. In these states, the value of the individual items is added together to determine if the theft qualifies as grand theft. In other states, the value of multiple items cannot be grouped together if there are different victims or there was no unifying plan to steal.

Types of Property

Grand theft can also occur if a specific type of property is stolen, even if that property is not worth the minimum amount required for grand theft. The types of property that qualify as grand or felony theft differ between states, but typically include automobiles, firearms, and drugs.

What Are the Penalties for Grand Theft?

State theft laws often provide for different degrees of severity of grand theft, with higher degrees representing more significant crimes and coming with more significant penalties. For example, a state may punish grand theft in the first degree as any theft of property valued at more than $100,000. Grand theft in the second degree, a less serious charge, might apply whenever the value of the property is between $50,000 and $100,000. Third-degree grand theft would apply when the property is worth anything above the minimum amount of $2,500 up to $50,000.

Jail or Prison

For felony convictions of grand theft, the penalties might range anywhere from a sentence of 2 to 20 years' prison time. A first-time offender whose crime comes in at just over the felony threshold might get probation instead of a prison sentence. Probation can include some jail time. But the repeat offender who steals a high-value item or from a vulnerable person (like an elderly adult) will likely be looking at prison time.

Fines and Restitution

Being convicted of grand theft can also result in having to pay a significant fine. Felony fines also have a wide range. A state might start felony fines at $5,000 and go up to or exceed $100,000.

Whenever you are convicted of stealing something, the courts will typically require you to pay restitution in addition to fines. Restitution is paid directly to the property owner (the victim), while a fine is paid to the state as a penalty. Restitution is usually equal to the value of the stolen property.

Community Service

If a defendant receives probation, a judge may require the defendant to complete community service hours. Judges can get creative here. Say someone steals a boat. The judge might make that person clean up a stretch of public beach.

Consult an Attorney

Being charged with grand theft is always a significant event even if you have never been in trouble with the law before. A conviction for a felony crime will make your life much more difficult even if you are not sentenced to a lengthy prison term. You need to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney whenever you are charged with grand theft. These crimes are highly dependent on the laws of your state as well as the evidence the prosecution can bring against you. Only an experienced attorney in your area can evaluate your case in light of the law, the evidence, as well as his or her experience with the local criminal justice system.

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