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.
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:
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).)
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).
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.
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.
A person who steals property valued between $1,501 and $5,000 faces the following penalties:
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.
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.
Montana's theft laws also provide the following felony penalties for theft regardless of the value of the stolen property:
(Mont. Code §§ 45-6-301, 45-6-333 (2020).)
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).
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.
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:
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).)
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.