Iowa Laws on Misdemeanor and Felony Theft

The basics of Iowa's theft and shoplifting crimes and penalties.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 4/09/2024

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.

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

How Iowa Defines Theft Crimes

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.

Defining Permanent Deprivation

Under the first definition, a prosecutor must show that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of their property "permanently." The most typical way this occurs is when the defendant doesn't intend to return the property. But it's also a permanent deprivation under the law if the defendant intends to retain another's property unlawfully 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.

Examples of Theft

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.

(Iowa Code §§ 702.14, 714.1 (2024).)

How Iowa Classifies and Punishes Theft

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 Penalties

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 $105 to $850.

Fourth-Degree Theft Penalties

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 $430 to $2,565 and up to a year in jail.

Third-Degree Theft Penalties

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 $750 or less.

Third-degree theft can be punished by up to two years' incarceration and a fine between $850 and $8,540.

Second-Degree Theft Penalties

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 between $1,025 and $10,245.

First-Degree Theft Penalties

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 that was destroyed or left unoccupied because of a natural disaster, civil unrest, or bombing (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 $1,370 and $13,660.

Enhanced Penalties for Theft Offenses in Iowa

Enhanced penalties for theft may apply in the following circumstances.

Theft Against an Older Individual

Stealing from someone 60 or older results in enhanced penalties. Iowa bumps up the offense level by one degree. So, for example, an aggravated misdemeanor theft increases to a class D felony if committed against an older adult.

Repeat Gas Theft: Driver's License Suspension

A judge may suspend the driver's license of anyone convicted of a second or subsequent violation of stealing motor fuel.

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, 714.2A, 714.7D, 902.8, 903.1 (2024).)

Shoplifting Penalties in Iowa

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

Criminal Retail Theft Penalties in Iowa

Shoplifting falls under the definition of theft, with penalties based on the value of the merchandise involved (see penalties above).

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.

Aggravated misdemeanor penalties apply if the person commits an assault in the course of shoplifting $300 or less in merchandise.

(Iowa Code §§ 711.3B, 714.7B (2024).)

Civil Retail Theft Penalties in Iowa

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 (2024).)

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.

Talk to a Defense attorney
We've helped 95 clients find attorneys today.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you