Pennsylvania Laws on Misdemeanor and Felony Theft and Shoplifting

A person who commits theft or a related offense in Pennsylvania can face serious felony penalties, including lengthy terms of imprisonment and robust fines.

Pennsylvania theft statutes cover a broad range of prohibited conduct, including stealing, embezzlement, extortion, receiving stolen property, shoplifting, and the like.

Defining Theft Under Pennsylvania Law

A person commits theft by unlawfully taking, transferring, or exercising control over another's movable or immovable property, with the intent of depriving the owner of their property or using the property to benefit oneself or another who's not entitled to it. Let's break down a few of these terms further.

Property. Property can be anything of value, including real estate, tangible and intangible personal property, contract rights, captured or domestic animals, and food and drink.

Deprive. The intent to deprive an owner of their property refers to several actions: intending to withhold the property permanently or for such an extended period of time that the owner loses a major portion of its economic value; intending to restore the property only upon payment of a reward or other compensation; or intending to dispose of the property so it's unlikely the owner will recover it.

Pennsylvania's laws contain numerous theft provisions. This article will provide a general overview of the following:

  • theft by unlawful taking or disposition
  • theft by failure to make required disposition of funds received (embezzlement)
  • theft by false pretense
  • theft by extortion (threats of accusation, reputational harm, or lawsuit), and
  • receiving stolen property.

For other types of theft, check out the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, title 18, chapter 39, or consult with an attorney.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 3901, 3921, 3922, 3923, 3925, 3927 (2020).)

Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties

Pennsylvania classifies most theft offenses according to the value of the property taken and, sometimes, by the circumstances surrounding the offense. Let's take a closer look at each level of theft in Pennsylvania.

The classifications below pertain to run-of-the-mill theft offenses. Thefts involving aggravating circumstances—where property is taken directly from another person, or by threat, or in breach of a fiduciary obligation—will result in more serious charges and harsher fines not covered here.

Misdemeanor Thefts

Misdemeanor theft falls into one of three categories. Third-degree involves property worth less than $50, which subjects the offender to up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. A defendant who steals property valued at $50 or more but less than $200 commits a second-degree misdemeanor theft and faces up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If a defendant unlawfully takes property worth $200 to $2,000, they are guilty of first-degree misdemeanor theft and can receive up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Third-Degree Felony Theft

Theft is classified as a felony of the third degree if the value of the property stolen is more than $2,000 but less than $100,000, or if the property stolen is an automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat, or another motor-propelled vehicle. Theft by receiving stolen property becomes a felony of the third degree if the receiver is in the business of buying or selling stolen property. A guilty offender faces up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Second-Degree Felony Theft

Theft constitutes a felony of the second degree if any of the following apply:

  • the offense is committed during a manmade, natural, or war-caused disaster and constitutes a theft relating to unlawful taking or disposition, receiving stolen property, unauthorized use of motor vehicles, or retail theft
  • the property stolen is a firearm or any amount of anhydrous ammonia
  • in the case of theft by receiving stolen property, the property received, retained, or disposed of is a firearm, or
  • the amount involved is $100,000 or more but less than $500,000.

A defendant convicted of a second-degree felony is subject to up to ten years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

First-Degree Felony Theft

Felony theft of the first degree involves stolen property worth $500,000 or more or, in the case of theft by receiving stolen property, the property received, retained, or disposed of is a firearm and the receiver is in the business of buying or selling stolen property. In either scenario, the offender faces up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 1101, 1103, 1104, 3903 (2020).)

Retail Theft (Shoplifting) in Pennsylvania

Like many states, Pennsylvania's shoplifting laws provide for both criminal and civil penalties.

Criminal Penalties

A person commits retail theft (shoplifting) by intentionally doing any of the following acts without the merchant's consent and with the intent to deprive the merchant of the goods or their full retail value:

  • takes, carries away, or conceals merchandise
  • alters the price tags or under-rings an item
  • switches containers of the merchandise, or
  • tampers with a security device.

Pennsylvania penalizes retail theft based on the value of the stolen merchandise and the offender's record of prior retail theft convictions.

Summary offense. If the shoplifter is a first-time offender and the items are worth less than $150, they are guilty of a summary offense, which results in no jail time and only a fine of up to $300.

Second-degree misdemeanor. For a second such offense (value less than $150), the defendant receives a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

First-degree misdemeanor. Retail items valued at $150 to $1,000 increase the conviction to a first-degree misdemeanor. A guilty offender faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Third-degree felony. The offender commits a third-degree felony when the stolen merchandise is valued at more than $1,000 or is a firearm or motor vehicle. An offender's third or subsequent retail theft offense also carries third-degree felony penalties. A guilty party can receive up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Civil Penalties

In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting (or the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits these acts) in Pennsylvania can be civilly liable to the merchant or store owner. The court can order the defendant to:

  • restore the merchandise to the store owner in its original condition, if possible, or pay damages in the amount of the merchandise value
  • pay actual damages arising from the incident and reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs, and
  • pay a civil penalty to the retail merchant in the amount of the value of the merchandise plus $150.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 1101, 1103 to 1105, 3929; 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8308 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been charged with theft or a related crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Having a theft conviction on your record can affect future employment opportunities, the ability to obtain housing, and immigration status. An experienced lawyer will be able to study the unique circumstances of your situation and advise accordingly.

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