Maryland Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws

Defining Theft Under Maryland Law

Under Maryland criminal statutes, theft occurs when a person knowingly exerts unauthorized control over property, if the person:

  • intends to deprive the owner of the property, or
  • willfully or knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property in a way that actually deprives (or probably will deprive) the owner of the property. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 7-104(a).)

In addition to the general definition of theft detailed above, Maryland's criminal statues also identify a number of specific theft offenses, including:

  • unauthorized control over property by deception
  • possessing stolen personal property
  • controlling property that has been lost, or delivered by mistake
  • obtaining services only available for compensation, by deception or with knowledge that the services have been provided without consent
  • motor vehicle theft ( § 7-105.)
  • newspaper theft ( § 7-106.)
  • writing bad checks ( § 7-107.)

Classification and Punishment for Theft in Maryland

In the state of Maryland, theft can constitute either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the dollar value of the property or services stolen, and other circumstances surrounding the offense. All theft offenses are punishable by jail time and/or payment of a fine, and an order that the offender either return the stolen property to its owner, or reimburse the owner for the value of the stolen property or services. Let’s take a more detailed look at each level of theft offense in Maryland.

Misdemeanor Theft in Maryland

A person who commits theft of property or services with a value of less than $100 will be charged with a misdemeanor in Maryland. This is the lowest-level theft offense in Maryland, and is commonly known as petty theft. At this lowest level, misdemeanor theft carries a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 90 days, or a fine of not more than $500, or both. Furthermore, the offender must either return the stolen property to its owner, or pay the owner for the value of the property or services. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 7-104(g)(3).)

A person who commits theft of property or services with a value of less than $1,000 will also be charged with a misdemeanor, but this more serious misdemeanor charge can result in a sentence of imprisonment of not more than 18 months, or a fine of not more than $500, or both. The offender also must return the stolen property to the owner, or pay the owner for the value of the property or services. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 7-104(g)(2).)

Felony Theft in Maryland

A person convicted of theft of property or services with a value of at least $1,000 but less than $10,000 is guilty of a felony in Maryland. This offense is punishable by imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. Additionally, the offender will be ordered to either return the stolen property to the owner, or pay the owner for the value of the property or services. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] §7-104(g)(1)(i).)

A person convicted of theft of property or services with a value of at least $10,000 but less than $100,000 is guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment for no more than 15 years or a fine of not more than $15,000, or both. As is the case with all other theft offenses under Maryland law, the offender must return the stolen property to the owner, or pay the owner for the value of the property or services. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 7-104(g)(1)(ii).)

A person convicted of theft of property or services with a value of $100,000 or more is guilty of a felony and is subject to imprisonment for no more than 25 years or a fine not exceeding $25,000 or both; and shall restore the property taken to the owner or pay the owner the value of the property or services. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 7-104(g)(1)(iii).)

Civil Liability for Theft in Maryland

In addition to the criminal penalties detailed above, a person who commits shoplifting may be civilly liable to the store owner. A shoplifter is required to return the merchandise to the store owner, but if the merchandise is not recoverable, has been damaged, or otherwise has lost all or part of its value, the person must pay the store owner an amount equal to the item’s stated sales price for the merchandise. The person also must pay the store owner the following:

  • any other actual damages, and
  • a civil penalty equal to two times the store owner's stated sales price for the merchandise, but not less than $50 nor more than $1,000. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 3-1302.)

Effect of Prior Convictions on Theft Charge in Maryland

A person who has two or more prior convictions for theft-related offenses, and who commits theft of property or services with a value of less than $1,000, will be charged with a misdemeanor, and will be subject to harsher penalties: a sentence of imprisonment of no more than five years or a fine of no more than $5,000, or both. And as with all theft convictions in Maryland, the offender must return the stolen property to the owner, or pay the owner the value of the property or services. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 7-104(g)(4).)

Defenses for Theft in Maryland

Maryland statutes identify a few specific defenses to theft, including arguments that, at the time of the alleged offense:

  • the defendant was acting under a good faith claim of right to the property involved
  • the defendant was acting in the honest belief that they had the right to obtain or exert control over the property, or
  • the property belonged to the person’s spouse, unless the spouses were not living together as husband and wife at the time of the theft, and they were living in separate residences. (Md. Code Ann. [Crim.] § 7-110.)

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