Under Ohio law, a person commits theft by taking property or services without authorization and with the intent to deprive the owner of the property or not pay for the services.
Specifically, Ohio criminal statutes prohibit someone from knowingly obtaining or exerting control over someone else's property or services:
Theft includes acts commonly referred to as larceny, embezzlement, shoplifting, and extortion. Because theft can involve property or services, it's important to understand how Ohio defines each category. In Ohio, "property" includes any property, real or personal, tangible or intangible, and any interest or license in that property. "Services" include labor, rental services, public utility services (such as water or electricity), food, drink, transportation, entertainment, and the like.
(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2901.01, 2913.01, 2913.02 (2022).)
Ohio classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the property or services stolen, the character of the property, or whether the victim is part of a protected class. Let's take a closer look at each type of theft offense in Ohio.
Theft constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor if stolen property or services have a value of less than $1,000. A person who commits a petty theft faces up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Theft is charged as a fifth-degree felony when one of the following conditions exists:
A fifth-degree felony carries a prison sentence ranging from six to 12 months and a fine of up to $2,500.
Theft is a fourth-degree felony when one of the following conditions exists:
An offender guilty of a fourth-degree felony is subject to incarceration time ranging from six to 18 months and a fine of not more than $5,000.
Ohio statutes divide aggravated thefts into three separate categories, ranging from third- to first-degree felonies.
Aggravated theft constitutes a third-degree felony when one of the following conditions exists:
A person who commits a third-degree felony theft faces incarceration time ranging from nine months to three years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Aggravated theft is a second-degree felony when one of the following conditions exists:
Second-degree felony theft carries a prison term ranging from two to 12 years and a fine of up to $15,000.
Aggravated theft is a first-degree felony when one of the following conditions exists:
Penalties for a first-degree felony theft include a prison term ranging from three to 16.5 years and a fine of not more than $20,000.
(Ohio Rev. Code §§ 2913.02, 2913.71, 2929.14, 2929.18, 2929.24, 2929.28 (2022).)
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits theft—including shoplifting—may be civilly liable to the owner of the property for financial damages. The property owner must elect between the following damages:
The court can also award the property owner attorneys' fees and court costs.
(Ohio Rev. Code § 2307.61 (2022).)
Defendants facing theft charges may have legitimate defenses they can raise at trial, depending on the facts of their cases.
The mistake of fact defense applies when the defendant didn't know the property belonged to someone else. Here's an example: Rick sees a nice office chair on the sidewalk in front of an upscale apartment building. Chuckling to himself about the things people just throw away these days, he takes the chair, but is soon stopped by the police. Rick didn't know the chair belonged to Kayla, who was moving into her apartment that day. In this scenario, Rick can probably argue he made a mistake of fact—that he believed the chair had been abandoned—and did not "knowingly" take Kayla's property.
Defendants who are so intoxicated that they don't realize the property belongs to someone else can raise the defense of intoxication. For example, if Lulu was so drunk at the bar that she took someone else's purse thinking it was her own (forgetting she didn't even bring a purse that night), she might be able to raise the defense of intoxication.
The claim of right defense, though uncommon, is an argument that the defendant had a reasonable belief in the right to take the property. For example, if Luis owed Kim $100, and Kim took $100 sitting on Luis's counter to collect the debt, Kim might be able to argue a claim of right to the money.
While the information on this page can help you understand how your state's legislature treats varying levels of theft offenses, the application of those laws can vary by location. Local courts, law enforcement, and the district attorney will play a significant role in determining the outcome of a given case. And whether any defenses apply will depend on the specific facts of your case. For these reasons, it's important to talk to an experienced local criminal defense attorney if you've been charged with any theft-related crime.