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What is Theft Law?
The term theft is used widely to refer to crimes involving the taking of a person's property without their permission. Theft law deals with a variety of crimes in which the defendant takes money, assets, services, or other property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of the property. But theft has a very broad legal meaning which may encompass more than one category, and multiple degrees, of crimes. These crimes exist at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Theft statutes usually refer to the value of the property taken by the defendant, with penalties escalating on this basis. Besides imposing jail, fines, and other punishment, courts in all jurisdictions will require those convicted of theft to make restitution by repaying victims for their losses.
Types of Theft Crimes:Offenses involving property valued at less than $1,000 or so are usually treated as misdemeanors. These crimes are commonly referred to as petty or petit larceny. Thefts of more valuable property are referred to as grand larceny and treated as felonies. Besides the value of the property taken, theft crimes are categorized by the type of property taken and the method used by the perpetrator to acquire it. The most serious theft crimes involve the use or threatened use of force. Most notable among these is the crime of robbery. Some instances of robbery are easy to recognize, such as mugging, bank heists, and carjacking. Other times robbery charges can come as a surprise, especially to those accused of conduct that might seem less serious at first blush. For example, a person apprehended for shoplifting who attempts to flee with the merchandise by physically breaking free of a security guard’s grasp may very well be guilty of robbery. Another category of theft involves financial crimes, such as embezzlement, insurance fraud, and forgery. Also known as white collar crime, these offenses are often committed by people who hold positions of trust within the business community. Through various forms of dishonest conduct, perpetrators of financial crimes find ways to steal from victims using trickery, rather than force. Some of the largest and most notorious thefts ever carried out fall within this category.
Types and Degrees of Theft:
Other key questions in theft cases are: 1) what type of property was stolen; and 2) how much the property was actually worth. This determines the category and/or degree of theft charges that an accused could face. Many jurisdictions create degrees of theft crimes. For example, a third degree theft might be a misdemeanor involving property with a relatively low market value. On the other hand, a first degree theft could be classified as a felony with stolen property valued above a limit established by law. Alternatively, some states categorize their theft (or related offenses) as "petty" or "grand".
Grand theft, on the other hand, occurs when property is stolen that is worth more than the limit for petty theft. Typically the market value for the property at the time it is stolen is used to determine that property's value for purposes of petty or theft charges. Grand theft or comparable violations, such as grand larceny, are classified as felonies in all states. This is the most serious category of offenses and can have severe consequences for individuals convicted of such crimes.
Deferral Programs for First Offenders:
Any sort of theft crime conviction can severely impact the employability of the defendant in the future. In an effort to keep a record of the incident from appearing on their criminal histories, qualifying defendants in many jurisdictions can request to take part in a deferral program. Under such a program the defendant pleads guilty, but the court holds the plea pending successful completion of probation. As long as the defendant pays restitution, stays out of trouble, and satisfies all of the other conditions imposed by the judge, the case will be dismissed at the end of the probationary period. The plea is never entered, and no conviction will appear on the defendant’s record.
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