Wisconsin Misdemeanor and Felony Theft Laws

Like many states, Wisconsin classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the property or services stolen—and, in some cases, according to the type of property involved in the theft.

Wisconsin's theft statute covers a broad range of prohibited conduct, including offenses commonly referred to as larceny, embezzlement, and theft by false pretenses. In this article, we'll review the definition of, and penalties for, theft and retail theft (shoplifting).

Defining Theft Under Wisconsin Law

Theft is a crime against property. Under Wisconsin law, theft occurs when a person does any of the following:

  • intentionally takes and carries away another's property without consent and with intent to permanently deprive the owner of possession of their property (larceny)
  • converts to their own use the property of another as a result of their office or position, without the owner's consent (embezzlement)
  • obtains title to another's property by intentionally deceiving the person with a false representation, made with intent to defraud (theft by false pretenses), or
  • intentionally fails to return any personal property in their possession due to a lease or rental agreement (such as theft of a rental car).

The definition of property includes more than just personal property and money. It also includes real property, utilities (like electricity and gas), documents, ownership rights (such as in a business), and other intangible rights.

(Wis. Stat. § 943.20 (2020).)

Other Theft-Related Crimes

In addition to crimes that fall under the general theft statute, Wisconsin statute identifies several other property crimes relating to theft, including:

This article will discuss the classifications and penalties for offenses that fall under the general theft statute. To learn more about specific theft offenses (such as those listed above), check out the Wisconsin Statutes or consult with an attorney.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 943.20 and following (2020).)

Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties in Wisconsin

Like many states, Wisconsin classifies its theft offenses according to the value of the property or services stolen—and, in some cases, according to the type of property involved in the theft. Penalties range from a class A misdemeanor to a class F felony. In addition to fines and possible imprisonment, a judge can order an offender to pay restitution to the victim (for losses resulting from theft). Let's take a closer look at different theft offenses in the state of Wisconsin.

Class A Misdemeanor Theft

  • Theft is a class A misdemeanor if the value of the property or services stolen does not exceed $2,500.
  • The punishment for a class A misdemeanor can include a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment for no more than nine months, or both.

Class I Felony Theft

  • Theft is a class I felony if the value of the property or services stolen is greater than $2,500 but less than $5,000.
  • The punishment for a class I felony includes a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment of no more than three years and six months, or both.

Class H Felony Theft

  • Theft is a class H felony if the value of the property or services stolen is more than $5,000 but less than $10,000 or if the property is a firearm, a domestic animal, taken as a result of looting, or taken from an at-risk individual.
  • The punishment for a class H felony includes a fine of no more than $10,000, imprisonment for no more than six years, or both.

Class G Felony Theft

  • Theft is a class G felony if the value of the property or services stolen is greater than $10,000 but less than $100,000.
  • The punishment for a class G felony includes a fine of no more than $25,000, imprisonment for a term not to exceed ten years, or both.

Class F Felony Theft

  • Theft is a class F felony if the value of the property or services stolen exceeds $100,000.
  • The punishment for a class F felony includes a fine of no more than $25,000, imprisonment for a term not to exceed 12 years and six months, or both.

(Wis. Stat. §§ 939.50, 939.51, 943.20 (2020).)

Repeat Theft Charges in Wisconsin

The effect of prior convictions on a current theft charge is not specifically covered in Wisconsin's theft statutes, like it is for a drug charge. However, Wisconsin law does authorize harsher punishments for "habitual criminality," and any prior criminal convictions on an offender's record will almost surely result in a harsher punishment at sentencing time.

(Wis. Stat. § 939.62 (2020).)

Retail Theft (Shoplifting) Under Wisconsin Law

Retail theft (often called shoplifting) carries criminal and civil penalties. Like most states, Wisconsin's law allows for a criminal prosecution (brought by a government prosecutor) and a civil lawsuit (brought by the victim, here the merchant).

Definition of Retail Theft

A person commits a retail theft by intentionally doing any of the following acts without the merchant's consent and with intent to permanently deprive the merchant of the merchandise or its full retail value:

  • alters the price or value of merchandise
  • takes and carries away merchandise
  • retains possession of, transfers, or conceals merchandise, or
  • removes a theft detection device from merchandise (while inside the store).

It's also considered retail theft to use or possess a theft detection shielding device or device remover in order to avoid setting off an alarm.

Under these provisions, a person commits retail theft even if they don't make it out of the store with the merchandise. It's enough to hide merchandise under a coat or in a bag intending to steal it. Switching price tags or containers to get a lower price on an item also constitutes retail theft.

Criminal Penalties for Retail Theft

The penalties for retail theft are based on the value of the merchandise involved. In addition, the judge can direct the offender to pay restitution to the merchant. (Restitution compensates a crime victim for their losses.) You can find the penalty ranges above.

  • Class A misdemeanor: Value of merchandise is $500 or less
  • Class I felony: Value of merchandise is $501 to $5,000
  • Class H felony: Value of merchandise is $5001 to $10,000
  • Class G felony: Value of merchandise is over $10,000

A class A misdemeanor increases to a class H felony when two or more people conspire to commit a retail theft scheme involving reselling stolen merchandise online. (Wis. Stat. § 943.50 (2020).)

Civil Penalties for Retail Theft

In addition to any criminal penalties, a person who commits retail theft (or the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits retail theft) may be civilly liable to the merchant for:

  • the retail value of the merchandise (unless returned undamaged), plus any other actual damages caused by the shoplifter
  • punitive damages (a civil penalty) equal to three times the total amount of the retail value of the merchandise (two times the retail value for a juvenile offender), and
  • the merchant's costs associated with bringing the civil action, including reimbursement of reasonable attorneys' fees.

The total amount awarded for punitive damages and attorneys' fees cannot exceed $500 for each retail theft violation. (The combined amount caps out at $300 for a juvenile offender.)

(Wis. Stat. § 943.51 (2020).)

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney Today

If you were arrested for or charged with a theft crime, contact a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney. Even a minor theft offense can have permanent negative consequences, so it's important to bring an attorney on board as soon as possible. Be sure to ask your attorney about the effects theft charges may have on current or future employment, ability to obtain housing, and even immigration status. An experienced attorney will know the law, possible defenses, and both the short- and long-term consequences for your situation.

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