Arkansas Laws on Misdemeanor and Felony Theft

Theft of property or services can result in criminal penalties, including incarceration and steep fines. In Arkansas, theft penalties range from a class A misdemeanor to a class B felony.

Under Arkansas law, theft occurs when a person knowingly:

  • takes another person’s property with the intent of depriving the owner of the property
  • exercises unauthorized control over another person’s property
  • obtains or diverts another’s services without authorization or payment
  • makes an unauthorized transfer of a property interest, or
  • takes another person’s property or services by deception or threat.

Arkansas laws also identify a number of very specific types of theft offenses, including:

  • theft of lost or mislaid property
  • theft of a trade secret
  • theft of motor fuel, and
  • theft of recyclable materials and scrap materials.

Arkansas' theft laws are very detailed. This article discusses the classifications that apply to theft of property and services. Be sure to check the state code for information on other theft categories. (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-36-101 to -124 (2020).)

Classification of Theft Crimes in Arkansas

In the state of Arkansas, theft offenses generally follow a classification system that is based on the dollar value of the property or services taken, the type of property stolen, or both. Penalties range from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B felony.

Class A Misdemeanor Theft

Arkansas classifies a theft offense as a Class A misdemeanor (the lowest-level theft offense, sometimes called petty theft) if:

  • the value of the property or services stolen is $1,000 or less
  • the property has no market or replacement value but has value to the owner, or
  • the property is a decorative or memorial item from a cemetery.

Punishment for a Class A misdemeanor includes a sentence of imprisonment of no more than one year and payment of a fine of not more than $2,500.

Class D Felony Theft

Stolen property or services valued between $1,000 and $5,000 is classified as a Class D felony in Arkansas.

A theft also constitutes a Class D felony in Arkansas when:

  • the property is a credit or debit card or number
  • the property is a firearm valued at less than $2,500
  • the property value is between $100 and $500 and stolen during a state of emergency
  • the property is a decorative or memorial item from a cemetery and a repeat offense
  • the property is livestock worth more than $200
  • the property is a utility line or farm-related utility system, or
  • the property is oil or gas equipment valued at less than $1,000 and involved incidental damages or was taken across state lines.

Punishment for a Class D felony can result in a sentence of imprisonment of no more than six years and a fine no greater than $10,000.

Class C Felony Theft

Theft of property or services valued between $5,000 and $25,000 constitutes a Class C felony.

Additionally, theft rises to the level of a Class C felony in Arkansas when:

  • the stolen property is a firearm valued at $2,500 or more
  • the stolen property is building material valued at $500 or more
  • property worth more than $500 is stolen during a state of emergency
  • the property was obtained by threat, or
  • the property is oil or gas equipment valued between $1,000 and $5,000 and involved incidental damages or was taken across state lines.

A Class C felony theft conviction carries a sentence of three to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Class B Felony Theft

When theft involves property or services valued at $25,000 or more, the offense is a Class B felony in Arkansas.

Theft is also considered a Class B felony in Arkansas when the offense involves:

  • threat of serious bodily injury or destruction of another’s home
  • threat to a person with whom the offender has a fiduciary or confidential relationship
  • property containing anhydrous ammonia in any form
  • public utility property valued at $500 or more, or
  • oil and gas equipment valued at more than $5,000.

A Class B felony theft offense under Arkansas law carries a sentence of five to 20 years' incarceration, as well as a fine of no more than $15,000.

(Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-4-201, -401 (2020).)

Enhanced Penalties

In general, the Arkansas theft law provides for sentencing increases based on the circumstances of the crime, such as threats of harm or property stolen from utilities (as noted above). Additionally, the law contains the following enhancements.

Repeat Offenders

Arkansas’s habitual offender laws don’t apply to repeat theft offenses. However, a judge does take into consideration a defendant’s record at the time of sentencing. Under the state Sentencing Grid, the presumptive (typical) sentence for a crime increases along with the offender's criminal history.

Theft During a State of Emergency

For 30 days after a state of emergency is declared, enhanced and mandatory penalties apply for theft of:

  • any equipment used to transmit electric power or telephone services, and
  • generators intended for use by hospitals, airports, public utilities, public safety agencies, and any other vital facility.

The law increases class A misdemeanors to class D felonies and requires a defendant to pay a fine of at least $5,000 and up to $50,000.

Shoplifting Penalties

A person who steals merchandise from a store or business establishments faces both criminal and civil penalties. Civil penalties are meant to deter shoplifters and compensate store owners for the costs incurred to prevent and "prosecute" (sue) shoplifters.

Criminal Penalties

Arkansas law does not have separate shoplifting penalties. The penalty classifications described above for theft of property apply to shoplifting.

Civil Penalties

A person who commits shoplifting (or the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits shoplifting) can be held civilly liable to the store owner. The store owner must first send a written demand (letter) to the accused shoplifter requesting return of the property or its cash equivalent and a $200 penalty.

If the accused shoplifter does not answer the demand in 30 days, the store owner can bring a civil action against the accused shoplifter or, if the shoplifter is a minor, the parents, for:

  • damages in the amount of the retail value of the merchandise (if not returned) or the loss of retail value for returned items
  • a civil penalty of up to $1,000 (for adult offenders), and
  • court costs and attorneys’ fees.

(Ark. Code Ann. § 16-122-102 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you face theft charges, speak to a criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can protect your rights, help you navigate the criminal justice system, and explain any consequences of a plea deal or criminal record. Even if the charges are for petty or misdemeanor theft, the consequences of a criminal record can impact your ability to get employment, housing, or loans. It's best to consult an attorney before accepting any type of deal or civil settlement (in the case of shoplifting).

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