Delaware Theft and Shoplifting Laws

Delaware’s general theft law covers a broad range of conduct, including acts commonly referred to as larceny, embezzlement, and misappropriation. Penalties can include jail or prison time, fines, and payment of restitution.

Delaware's general theft law covers a broad range of conduct, including acts commonly referred to as larceny, embezzlement, conversion, and misappropriation.

Under Delaware law, theft occurs when a person:

  • takes another person's property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of the property, or
  • fraudulently converts another's property to their own use.

Theft generally involves taking or obtaining control over property without authorization and can include acts such as:

  • keeping lost or mislaid property without trying to find the owner
  • exercising control over or disposing of another person's property in a way that makes it unlikely the owner will recover it
  • obtaining another person's property by false pretenses or promises
  • acquiring another person's services by deception or threat, or
  • tampering with any facility or equipment (like public utilities) to avoid payment of services.

Delaware's Definition of "Property"

The definition of "property" includes personal property, as well as documents, contract rights, trade secrets, tickets, animals, crops, items found attached to or in the land (like minerals), services, and utilities.

So a person can commit theft by stealing someone's wallet. But it's also theft to splice cable from a neighbor's property to avoid paying for it, take someone's crops without permission, keep a misdelivered package, or trick someone into paying you cash.

(Del. Code Ann. tit. 11 §§ 841-846, 857 (2020).)

Delaware laws also identify several specific types of theft offenses, including:

  • theft or unauthorized use of a motor vehicle
  • theft of a prescription form or pad
  • theft of property from a cemetery
  • theft of rented or borrowed property
  • receiving stolen property
  • shoplifting (discussed below)
  • extortion, and
  • identity theft.

These crimes have separate penalties and won't be covered here (except shoplifting). Check out the Delaware Code or consult an attorney to learn more.

This article will cover general theft penalties and shoplifting penalties.

Classification and Punishment for Theft in Delaware

In the state of Delaware, theft offenses generally follow a classification system that is based on the dollar value of the property and the vulnerability of the victim targeted. Penalties range from a class A misdemeanor to a class B felony.

Sentencing judges must order defendants convicted of theft to pay restitution (repayment for any property taken or damaged or other costs incurred as a result of the defendant's crime), in addition to any imprisonment and fines imposed.

Class A Misdemeanor Theft

Delaware classifies a theft offense as a class A misdemeanor if the value of the property or services stolen is less than $1,500.

Punishment for a class A misdemeanor includes a sentence of no more than one year of imprisonment and payment of a fine up to $2,300.

Class G Felony Theft

Stolen property or services valued between $1,500 and $50,000 is classified as a class G felony in Delaware.

A theft also constitutes a class G felony in Delaware when the value of property or services stolen is less than $1,500 and the victim of theft is:

  • 62 years of age or older, or
  • a disabled or impaired adult.

Punishment for a class G felony is up to two years imprisonment. Sentencing judges can impose any fines they deem appropriate for felony convictions in Delaware.

Class F Felony Theft

A theft constitutes a class F felony in Delaware when the value of property or services taken is $1,500 or more and the victim of theft is:

  • 62 years of age or older, or
  • a disabled or impaired adult.

Punishment for a class F felony is up to three years of imprisonment.

Class D Felony Theft

A person who steals property or services valued at more than $50,000 but less than $100,000 commits a class D felony.

Punishment for a class D felony is up to eight years of imprisonment.

Class B Felony Theft

Theft of property valued at more than $100,000 is a class B felony under Delaware's laws.

Punishment for a class B felony is a minimum of two years and up to 25 years of imprisonment.

(Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, §§ 841, 4205, 4206 (2020).)

Shoplifting Laws in Delaware

Shoplifting in Delaware can result in both criminal and civil penalties.

Criminal Penalties

Shoplifting in Delaware occurs when a person:

  • takes merchandise from a store without paying for it
  • purchases merchandise using the credit of another person without permission
  • conceals merchandise with the intent to steal it
  • removes or alters the label or price tag on any item with the intent to steal it
  • hides an item in the packaging of another with the intent to steal it
  • uses an instrument, like a falsified credit slip, to obtain merchandise without paying for it, or
  • possesses or uses a counterfeit receipt or Universal Product Codes (UPC) label with the intent to defraud the store owner.

A person can be charged with and convicted of shoplifting even if they don't make it out the door with the merchandise. Concealing an item or hiding it with intent to steal is enough.

Penalties. Shoplifting is a class A misdemeanor (see penalties above) when the value of the property taken is $1,500 or less or the person possesses a counterfeit receipt or UPC label. Shoplifting becomes a class G felony when the value of the property taken is $1,500 or more. Delaware law allows the prosecution to aggregate (combine) the value of any property taken from three or more separate stores in one continuing crime spree to determine whether the theft is a misdemeanor or felony.

Enhanced penalty. People who possess 15 or more counterfeit receipts or UPC labels or use them to steal $1,500 or more worth of goods are guilty of a class F felony.

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 letter (called a demand) to the accused shoplifter that requests return of the merchandise (or its retail value) and a penalty in the amount of the retail value of the merchandise or $150, whichever is greater.

If the accused shoplifter doesn't respond to the demand within 20 days, the store owner can bring a civil action against the accused shoplifter for the penalties requested in the demand letter and the costs of bringing the civil action, including attorneys' fees.

A store owner doesn't have to report the alleged shoplifting to the police or wait for the defendant to be convicted of shoplifting before seeking civil penalties.

(Del. Code Ann. tit. 10, § 8143 (2020).)

Obtaining Legal Assistance

If you face theft charges, speak to a criminal defense lawyer. Even a misdemeanor theft conviction can have serious consequences. A criminal theft record can impact your ability to get a job, housing, or loans. A local criminal defense attorney can explain the law and advise you of your rights and any consequences of a theft conviction.

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