Theft offenses involve more than stealing tangible personal property, such as a vehicle, smartphone, or wallet. A person can steal title to land, interest in stocks, or other legal interest in property. Embezzling cash from an employer is theft, as is tricking someone into wiring you funds to pay for a nonexistent expense.
This article discusses the definitions and penalties for theft offenses in Kentucky.
Kentucky law contains several theft offenses. For purposes of this article, we'll primarily discuss theft of property by unlawful taking or disposition, which includes shoplifting offenses. Kentucky law also identifies several specific theft offenses, such as theft of services, theft by deception, and others. Many of these specific theft offenses carry similar penalties.
In Kentucky, a person commits theft by unlawfully:
Property. The term "property" includes anything of value. It's not limited to tangible personal property (such as a wallet). Property includes real property, personal property, contract rights, documents, and financial interests.
Deprivation of property. The first definition of theft involves a person's intent to deprive someone of their property. Deprivation of property often means the defendant doesn't intend to return the property. But it also covers situations where the defendant intends to keep the property for an extended time (so it loses much of its value to the owner), to give back the property only upon payment of a reward, or to dispose of the property to make it unlikely the owner can recover it (such as ditching a wallet in a dumpster).
Obtaining another's property. The second definition refers to unlawfully obtaining another's immovable property (usually real estate) or interest in the property and transferring it to someone not entitled to it. This theft must involve a transfer of the victim's legal interest in the property to another's benefit, for example, a house deed.
Kentucky law also identifies a number of specific theft offenses, including:
For these offenses, Kentucky law generally provides the same penalties as for theft of property (see below)—ranging from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C felony—based on the value of the stolen property, services, or labor. (Higher penalties apply for receipt of a stolen firearm or anhydrous ammonia.)
(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 514.010 to .110 (2021).)
Like most states, Kentucky classifies theft offenses based on the value of the stolen property or services, and in some cases, on the type of stolen property. For example, Kentucky law singles out theft of firearms and anhydrous ammonia as felonies, regardless of dollar value.
Below you can find the maximum penalty by offense level. In Kentucky, all felonies carry the same potential fine: $1,000 to $10,000 or double the amount of gain from the commission of the offense, whichever is greater.
Kentucky divides theft of property by unlawful taking or disposition into six offense levels.
Class B misdemeanor. A person commits a Class B misdemeanor by stealing property valued at less than $500. A Class B misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $250 fine.
Class A misdemeanor. A person commits a Class A misdemeanor by stealing property valued at $500 or more but less than $1,000. A Class A misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $500 fine. Upon a third conviction in five years, the penalty increases to a Class D felony.
Class D felony. A person faces a Class D felony for any of the following acts:
A Class D felony theft conviction carries a prison sentence of one to five years.
Class C felony. Theft is a Class C felony if it involves property valued between $10,000 and $1,000,000. A person convicted of a Class C felony faces five to ten years in prison.
Class B felony. Theft of property worth more than $1,000,000 is a Class B felony. It's also a Class B felony to steal anhydrous ammonia with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine. A Class B felony carries a prison sentence of ten to 20 years.
Class A felony. Class A felony theft charges are reserved for repeat acts of stealing anhydrous ammonia with the intent to manufacture methamphetamine. A Class A felony is punishable by 20 to 50 years in prison.
Enhanced penalties apply in certain cases involving "persistent felony offenders." A persistent felony offender is anyone older than 21 who commits a second or subsequent felony offense. The exact penalty depends on the classification of the current and prior offenses, as well as the number of prior offenses.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 514.030; 532.060, -.080, -.090; 534.040 (2021).)
Kentucky statutes identify a few specific defenses to theft. For instance, it would be a defense if the defendant was unaware that the property or service actually belonged to another person. Other defenses include the defendant: (1) was acting under a claim of right to the property or services, (2) took property that was for sale intending to promptly pay for it, or (3) took the property under the reasonable belief that the owner would have consented. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 514.020 (2021).)
Similar to many states, a person who shoplifts merchandise can face both criminal and civil penalties.
Shoplifting falls under the crime of theft of property by unlawful taking, and the same penalties as above apply. A person can be charged with a crime if they take or exercise control over the property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. To "exercise control over merchandise," a shoplifter doesn't need to make it out of the store. It's enough to willfully conceal unpurchased items under a coat or in a coated bag, for instance.
Shoplifting merchandise valued at over $1,000 (easily the price of a smartphone) tips the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony.
(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 433.234 (2021).)
On top of criminal penalties, a store owner can sue a shoplifter in civil court for damages and penalties. Shoplifting offenses include theft of merchandise, as well as criminal damage to merchandise and altering price markings to avoid paying full retail price.
The store owner can seek the following amounts:
If the shoplifter is a minor, the custodial parents or legal guardians are responsible for paying the damages and penalties. (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 411.095 (2021).)
If you're facing theft or shoplifting charges, speak to a criminal defense attorney right away. A lawyer can explain the charges, protect your rights, and help you achieve the best outcome.