Under Indiana law, a person commits theft by knowingly or intentionally “exerting unauthorized control” over another’s property, with the intent to deprive the other person of the value or use of the property. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-2 (2020).)
What does it mean to "exert unauthorized control" over someone’s property? According to Indiana law, unauthorized control includes taking, obtaining, concealing, or transferring property:
The term “property” is also much broader than it appears. Indiana defines property as “anything of value” and includes real or personal property; money; labor; services; trade secrets; extension of credit; contract rights; public utilities (electricity, gas, oil, water); captured or domesticated animals, birds, and fish; human remains; and data.
(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 35-31.5-2-253; 35-43-4-1 (2020).)
Indiana classifies theft offenses based on the value and type of property stolen, the circumstances involved, and the offender’s prior criminal history.
Indiana law also establishes advisory sentences for each level of a felony offense. An advisory sentence is a guideline sentence that a court may voluntarily consider, which falls midway between the minimum sentence and the maximum sentence for the offense. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-2-1.3 (2020).)
Let’s take a closer look at the different levels of theft-based offenses in the state of Indiana.
The highest theft-level is a level 5 felony theft, which includes:
A class 5 felony carries a fixed sentence term of one to six years’ imprisonment and a fine up to $10,000. The advisory sentence is three years.
A person commits a level 6 felony by doing any of the following:
A conviction for a class 6 felony includes a fixed term of six months to two and a half years’ incarceration (with an advisory sentence of one year) and a fine up to $10,000.
A court can reduce a level 6 felony to a class A misdemeanor under certain circumstances. A person doesn't qualify if they've previously received an alternative misdemeanor sentence or have been convicted of certain felony-level offenses in the past three years.
Any theft that is not considered a felony is considered a class A misdemeanor. Basically, this includes a first-time theft offense where the property isn’t a firearm, motor vehicle, or motor vehicle part or the value of the property is less than $750. A person convicted of a class A misdemeanor faces up to a year in jail and a fine of $5,000.
(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 35-4-4-2; 35-50-3-2, -6, -7 (2020).)
In 2014, Indiana consolidated the majority of its theft-related offenses and penalties into one definition section and one penalty section. A few separate provisions remain outside these sections, including the following.
Dealing with altered property. A separate offense called “dealing with altered property” constitutes a class A misdemeanor. This crime involves a person who buys or sells personal property where the original identification number or serial number has been removed, altered, or defaced. If the property is worth $1,000 or more or the defendant has prior theft-related convictions, the penalty increases to a level 6 felony. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-43-4-2.3 (2020).)
Habitual offender sentencing enhancement. Indiana law tacks on an additional, mandatory sentence term for “habitual” felony offenders—generally, offenders who have committed two or more felony offenses in the past 10 years. For persons convicted of a level 5 or 6 felony, the court must add between two and four years to the underlying sentence term. (Ind. Code Ann. § 35-50-2-8 (2020).)
Driver’s license suspension; fuel theft. A conviction for fuel theft (theft at the pump) results in a 30-day suspension of driving privileges. (Ind. Code Ann. §§ 9-30-13-8; 35-43-4-8 (2020).)
In many states, a retailer who suffers losses due to shoplifting may bring a civil action against a shoplifter to recoup the losses. Indiana’s law is much broader and allows any victim of theft to seek treble (triple) damages against the offender in civil court. In addition, the victim can be awarded costs (of filing the lawsuit), attorneys’ fees, and court travel costs.
In a shoplifting case, the retailer is presumed (by law) to have lost a minimum of $100, regardless of whether the stolen property is returned to the retailer or the property stolen is valued at less than $100.
A person who doesn’t pay for motor fuel taken from the pump is liable to the gas or service station for the total pump price, plus a $50 service charge.
(Ind. Code Ann. §§ 24-4.6-5-4; 34-24-3-1, -2 (2020).)
If you’ve been charged with a theft offense, speak to an attorney as soon as possible. A criminal defense attorney will help you navigate the criminal justice system, protect your rights, and work to achieve the best possible outcome. Be sure to ask your attorney about the immediate and future consequences of a theft conviction. A criminal record for theft can make it difficult to get a job, housing, or loan in the future.