Montana Misdemeanor and Felony Theft and Shoplifting

Like many states, Montana classifies the majority of its theft offenses according to the value of the property or services stolen—and, in some cases, by the type of property or victim involved in the theft. Learn what distinguishes misdemeanor from felony theft.

Montana theft laws cover a broad range of illegal conduct, including theft of property or services, embezzlement, receiving stolen property, joyriding, fraudulently obtaining county benefits, and many more. Let's take a closer look at these offenses and their penalties.

Defining Theft Under Montana Law

In Montana, a person commits theft by purposely or knowingly taking property that belongs to someone else with the intention of depriving the owner of the property. More specifically, Montana criminal statutes say that theft occurs when a person:

  • takes someone else's property without permission
  • obtains another person's property by threat or deceit
  • takes control over knowingly stolen property
  • uses fraud or deceit to wrongfully obtain state or county benefits, public assistance, or workers' compensation benefits, or
  • converts property of their employer to their own use without consent (embezzlement).

Montana laws also identify a number of distinct theft offenses, including theft of services, labor, communication services, or lost property; joyriding; unlawful use of a computer; fraudulently obtaining or using food stamps; Medicaid fraud; and disposing of stolen property, among others. Penalties for these offenses may vary from the general theft penalties discussed below. Check out the Montana Statutes (title 45, chapter 6, part 3) to find penalties related to these and other theft offenses.

(Mont. Code §§ 45-6-301 and following (2020).)

Classification and Punishment of Theft Offenses in Montana

Unlike most states, Montana does not categorize felonies and misdemeanors into classes or levels for sentencing. Rather, Montana law defines each crime according to its elements and then sets forth the punishment for the crime.

Montana classifies its theft offenses based mostly on the dollar value of the property involved (and on the nature of the property in a few circumstances).

Misdemeanor Theft in Montana

A person convicted of stealing property not exceeding $1,500 in value must pay a fine up to $500 but won't be subject to jail time. Repeat offenders will face jail time and a $500 fine. A second conviction of the same offense carries up to six months in jail. And, for a third or subsequent offense, the offender is subject to between five days and one year in the county jail.

Felony Theft in Montana

Montana classifies the penalties for felony theft-related offenses based on the value of the property stolen and, sometimes, on the nature of items stolen or type of victim.

Stolen Property Valued Between $1,501 to $5,000

A person who steals property valued between $1,501 and $5,000 faces the following penalties:

  • first offense: maximum three-year prison sentence and a $1,500 fine
  • second offense: maximum five-year prison sentence and a $1,500 fine, and
  • third or subsequent offense: two- to five-year prison sentence and maximum $5,000 fine.

Stolen Property Valued at More Than $5,000

A person convicted of stealing property that falls within this category faces penalties including a fine of up to $10,000, ten years or less in prison, or both.

Embezzled Property Valued at More Than $10,000

An offender who steals property worth more than $10,000 by embezzlement is subject to a fine of up to $50,000, one to ten years in prison, or both.

Other Felony Theft Penalties

Montana's theft laws also provide the following felony penalties for theft regardless of the value of the stolen property:

  • domesticated hoofed animals: maximum ten-year prison sentence and a fine between $5,000 and $50,000
  • exploitation of vulnerable people (age 65 or older, incapacitated, or developmental disabilities): maximum ten-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine

(Mont. Code §§ 45-6-301, 45-6-333 (2020).)

Shoplifting: Criminal and Civil Penalties

Shoplifting (sometimes called retail theft) carries criminal and civil penalties. Like most states, Montana's law allows for a criminal prosecution (brought by a government prosecutor) and a civil lawsuit (brought by the store owner).

Criminal Penalties

Shoplifters are subject to the same criminal penalties as those offenders convicted under the general theft statute. As such, their punishments depend on the value of the goods they stole. Additionally, if the person steals merchandise worth less than $1,500 but uses an emergency exit to help facilitate their crime, they face a fine of up to $500, imprisonment for six months or less, or both. These penalties increase for repeat offenders.

Civil Penalties

A person who shoplifts merchandise from a store, or the custodial parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits shoplifting, may be civilly liable to the store owner for the following:

  • actual damages, and
  • a penalty in the amount of $100 or the retail value of the goods up to $1,000, whichever is greater.

The store owner is entitled to these civil remedies whether or not the person has returned the goods undamaged.

(Mont. Code §§ 27-1-718, 45-6-301 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have been arrested for or charged with a theft-related offense in Montana, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney today. A local attorney will discuss potential defenses with you, as well as provide you with a more extensive explanation of the criminal process in your state.

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