Kentucky Misdemeanor and Felony Theft

Learn when theft bumps up from a misdemeanor to a felony offense that carries the possibility of prison time.

By , Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated November 20, 2023

In Kentucky, 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.

Theft Offenses in Kentucky

Kentucky law contains a number of theft offenses. The law classifies theft primarily by the type of property stolen or how it was stolen. For instance, Kentucky has separate crimes for theft of services and theft by deception.

The stereotypical theft crime (like stealing a bike or TV) is called theft of property by unlawful taking or disposition. Other examples of theft offenses include:

This article outlines the penalties for theft of property by unlawful taking. But, in general, most theft offenses in Kentucky carry similar penalties—ranging from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class B or 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.)

Many theft offenses can be found in chapter 514 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 514.010 to .110 (2023).)

Classification and Punishment for Theft in Kentucky

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.

Penalties for Theft of Property in Kentucky

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:

  • stealing property valued between $1,000 and $10,000
  • stealing a controlled substance or substances valued under $10,000
  • stealing a firearm (any value), or
  • stealing anhydrous ammonia (any value, but see below Class A and B felonies).

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 5 to 10 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 10 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 for Theft Offenses in Kentucky

Kentucky law imposes enhanced penalties for certain repeat offenses and looting offenses.

Persistent felony offenders. 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.

Looting. Several theft crimes impose harsher penalties if a person commits the crime during a state of emergency. The penalty increases by a level. For example, a class A misdemeanor would increase to a class D felony.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. §§ 514.030, 532.060, 532.080, 532.090, 534.030, 534.040 (2023).)

Shoplifting Penalties in Kentucky

Similar to many states, a person who shoplifts merchandise in Kentucky can face both criminal and civil penalties.

Criminal Penalties for Shoplifting in Kentucky

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 (2023).)

Civil Penalties for Shoplifting in Kentucky

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:

  • actual damages, if any
  • a penalty in the amount of the retail value of the merchandise (up to $500)
  • an additional penalty between $100 and $250, and
  • court costs.

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 (2023).)

Defenses to Theft and Shoplifting Charges Under Kentucky Law

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.

Defense attorneys may also try to poke holes in the prosecution's case. For example, the defense might argue the prosecutor didn't establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. Perhaps, the defendant has a strong alibi. Or the defense attorney could argue that the crime is not a felony because the stolen watch was worth only $900, not $1,000.

(Ky. Rev. Stat. § 514.020 (2023).)

Talk to a Lawyer

Theft offenses can easily add up to a felony in Kentucky. 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.

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