Iowa Laws on Misdemeanor and Felony Theft

Iowa makes it a felony to steal property or services valued at over $1,500. Learn more about Iowa's theft and shoplifting penalties.

By , Attorney

Iowa's theft law covers a broad range of conduct, including crimes commonly referred to as larceny, misappropriation, embezzlement, theft by deception or fraud, receiving stolen property, and shoplifting.

A person commits theft in Iowa by stealing cash, jewelry, or any other item. It's also theft to: take someone's vehicle and abandon it in an old shed, deceive someone into transferring funds to another, accept a stolen smartphone, splice cable services from a neighbor, or misuse funds in an elderly parent's bank account to take a lavish vacation.

Below we'll discuss the definition and penalties for theft and shoplifting in Iowa.

Defining Theft in Iowa

Under Iowa law, the definition of theft includes the following:

  • taking possession or control of another person's property with intent to permanently deprive the person of that property
  • misappropriating, misusing, disposing, or concealing property in a manner that's contrary to the owner's property rights (such as embezzlement)
  • obtaining labor, services, or property by deception
  • exercising control over stolen property and not intending to return it, when the person knows or should know the property is stolen, or
  • obtaining public utility, telephone service, or cable service through an unauthorized connection to the service.

Permanent deprivation. Under the first definition, a prosecutor must show that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of their property "permanently." A permanent deprivation can mean that the defendant doesn't intend to ever return the property, intends to retain it for an extended period of time, or intends to dispose of the property so it's unlikely the owner can recover it. Basically, whatever the situation, the owner loses the benefit or value of their property.

(Iowa Code §§ 702.14, 714.1 (2020).)

Classification and Punishment for Theft in Iowa

Like many states, Iowa classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the stolen property or services. Theft involving property or services valued at $1,500 or less constitutes a misdemeanor, and anything over that amount raises the penalty to a felony. In addition to incarceration and fines, a judge can order the defendant to pay restitution (compensation) to the victim.

Fifth-Degree Theft

A person who steals property or services valued at no more than $300 commits a simple misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a fine ranging from $65 to $625.

Fourth-Degree Theft

Theft of property with a value ranging between $300 and $750 is classified as a serious misdemeanor. A person convicted of a serious misdemeanor faces a fine of $315 to $1,875 and up to a year in jail.

Third-Degree Theft

A person commits an aggravated misdemeanor by:

  • stealing property or services valued between $750 and $1,500, or
  • committing a third or subsequent theft offense involving stealing property or services valued at $500 or less.

Third-degree theft can be punished by up to two years' incarceration and a fine between $625 and $6,250.

Second-Degree Theft

Class D felony penalties apply when a person steals property or services valued between $1,500 and $10,000 or a motor vehicle. Second-degree theft carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of $750 to $7,500.

First-Degree Theft

The highest theft offense level—first-degree theft—involves any of the following:

  • the property taken is valued at greater than $10,000 (including a motor vehicle)
  • the property (of any value) is taken from the person of another, or
  • the property is taken from a building which has been destroyed or left unoccupied because of natural disaster, civil unrest, bombing, or battle (looting).

A person convicted of first-degree theft faces a class C felony, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a fine between $1,000 and $10,000.

Habitual Felony Offenders

A person who commits a class C or D felony and has at least two prior felony convictions faces a minimum three-year sentence of incarceration.

(Iowa Code §§ 714.2, 902.8, 902.9, 903.1 (2020).)

Shoplifting Penalties in Iowa

Like many other states, shoplifters can face both civil and criminal penalties in Iowa.

Criminal Penalties

Shoplifting falls under the definition of theft, with penalties based on the value of the merchandise involved (see penalties above). Aggravated penalties apply if the person commits an assault in the course of shoplifting $300 or less in merchandise.

Other shoplifting-related crimes include:

  • possessing or attempting to use a theft-detection shielding device (such as a coated bag)—a serious misdemeanor
  • possessing any tool intending to unlawfully remove a theft-detection device—a serious misdemeanor, or
  • removing or attempting to remove a theft-detection device intending to shoplift—a serious misdemeanor if the merchandise exceeds $300; otherwise a simple misdemeanor.

(Iowa Code §§ 711.3B, 714.7B (2020).)

Civil Penalties

A person who commits shoplifting may be civilly liable to the store owner for the following:

  • the return of the merchandise or reimbursement of the purchase price
  • actual damages for any decrease in value of the merchandise returned, and
  • the greater of $50 or actual costs—not to exceed $200—incurred by the owner in recovering the merchandise or damages.

If the shoplifter was a minor younger than 18, the parents are liable for any judgment won in a shoplifting civil case. (Iowa Code §§ 645.1 to 645.3 (2020).)

Contact a Lawyer

If you've been arrested for, or charged with, theft or shoplifting, speak to a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Even misdemeanor charges can lead to serious consequences, including jail time, fines, and restitution. Plus, a theft conviction on your record can impact future sentencing decisions and present barriers to finding housing and employment. Speak with an attorney to understand your rights and help achieve the best outcome in your case.

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