Felony theft and its corresponding jail time are crucial elements in the criminal laws of various jurisdictions in the United States. However, many might not understand how theft can be considered a felony.
Is simple stealing enough reason to be convicted of a violent crime or felony? Or are there other requirements for theft to be considered a felony?
This article explains felony theft and how stealing can be a severe criminal offense. It also tackles the factors determining the severity of a theft charge and this crime’s possible penalties.
Furthermore, this write–up provides additional information about felony theft, its differences and similarities to larceny, and possible defenses to use when charged with this crime.
Facing a criminal charge is always stressful and time-consuming. You’ll have to mentally, emotionally, and legally prepare yourself to ensure a positive outcome for your case.
One way to prepare for a legal battle is to gather all the necessary documents for your lawyer to build a strong defense, especially if you already have a criminal record.
LookUpInmate.org provides access to over 7,000 correctional facilities where you can request documents like arrest records, court documents, and release papers that you might need when dealing with a criminal charge.
Understanding Felony Theft Charges
Taking another person’s property without permission and having no intention of returning it is called stealing. However, does it mean that a person stealing candy from a store and a robber stealing troves of cash from a bank may face charges similar in severity?
Certainly not. Logic states that the robber stealing money from the bank is committing a worse crime than someone stealing candy from a store.
In criminal law, the typical term used for stealing is theft. There are different kinds of theft charges, making it easier to categorize this criminal act according to severity.
Looking at the example above, the bank robber is liable for a much more severe criminal charge. According to criminal law, a severe form of stealing is felony theft.
What Is Considered a Felony Theft?
Different states have criteria for what’s considered felony theft. Typically, the felony theft threshold is based on the value of the item or property the defendant stole.
“Felony theft threshold” refers to the amount of property stolen and whether it meets the clause for the prosecutor to charge the offense as a felony.
For instance, in California, a defendant is liable for felony theft if the value of the stolen property is not less than $950. On the other hand, the felony theft threshold in Texas is at least $2,500.
However, felony theft isn’t only determined according to an item’s value.
For example, in Kentucky, stealing anhydrous ammonia, a substance used to manufacture methamphetamine, is considered a felony. Likewise, stealing public records, scientific documents, and even credit or debit cards in New York is regarded as a felony.
Can You Avoid Jail Time After a Felony Theft Charge?
Depending on the circumstances, a person convicted of a felony theft charge can avoid going to jail. A felony charge doesn’t automatically mean the defendant will go to prison.
Judges may sometimes hand down probation, especially for first-time convictions and defendants with no criminal record.
Probation is an alternative sentencing option where the defendant doesn’t go to prison but is placed under the court’s strict supervision through a probation officer.
However, if the crime is severe, the judge may hand down a prison time sentence even though the defendant is a first-time offender.
Types of Theft Crimes
To better understand the criminal charge for theft, generally known as “stealing,” you must know the different types of theft crimes in the United States.
Most states define theft as the unlawful and intentional taking of another person’s property.
Some states and jurisdictions define theft based on larceny, which is to permanently remove a person’s access to their property by stealing it from their possession. However, some states consider larceny and theft as separate offenses.
If theft is the unlawful taking of another person’s property, shoplifting has a more precise definition. According to criminal law, shoplifting is the theft of merchandise or items sold by a store or place of business.
Shoplifting is a type of larceny that involves stealing another person’s property. Some states have set aside specific crime names for this act, like concealment of merchandise and retail theft, to address the growing number of shoplifting cases.
Unlawful Use of Credit Card
Credit card fraud is taking another person’s credit or debit card without their permission and using it to purchase items for the offender to keep.
This criminal act also falls under identity theft because the offender can steal the credit card’s number through various electronic means without even taking the physical card.
Federal and state jurisdictions have set theft laws to protect people from credit card fraud and stringently punish identity theft offenders.
Penalties for credit card fraud or identity theft vary between states. Such penalties and fines can also depend on the offender’s use of the stolen credit card.
If the criminal steals a credit card but does not use it, the charge may be as lenient as a misdemeanor.
Suppose one uses the card to purchase items over $1,000 illegally. In that case, the charge may become a felony, with prison sentences of up to five years in some states.
Elements of a Felony Theft
Every case has criteria that must be met to be considered felony theft. Presenting evidence and witnesses supporting each element falls on the prosecution’s shoulders.
The prosecution must find support for these elements to convict the defendant successfully. Say the prosecution can’t prove any of these elements beyond reasonable doubt. The court can reduce the defendant’s charge or dismiss the case entirely.
Though states may differ in defining the elements of felony theft, there are commonalities in every state.
- The offender unlawfully takes or steals another person’s property.
- The offender takes another person’s property without their consent.
- The offender intends to deprive the owner of access to the stolen property permanently.
How Does Felony Theft Differ From Misdemeanor Theft in the U.S.?
One of the main factors differentiating felony from misdemeanor theft in the United States is the value of the property stolen. Because of this, states adopted varying thresholds that separate felony theft from misdemeanors. It makes the differentiation between these two criminal acts clearer.
For example, in Alabama and Georgia, the threshold is $500. It means that a person stealing property less than $500 in value falls under a misdemeanor charge. However, individuals accused of stealing property above $500 are charged with felony theft.
Felony Theft Penalties and Sentencing Chart
Because each state has its legal take on what penalties are applicable for felony theft, it can be challenging to jot them all down in this article. Still, the succeeding subtopics explain the different penalties for felony theft.
How Much Time Does Felony Theft Carry in the U.S.?
Each state has different sentencing guidelines concerning felony theft. States can make and enforce laws and manage their affairs with relative freedom from the federal government.
As a result, there are different jurisdictions concerning legal issues such as felonies and misdemeanors. Here are examples of prison terms for felony theft in other states:
|State||Base prison sentence and fines|
|Arizona||Prison terms from 4 months to 12.5 years with fines of up to $150,000.|
|California||A prison term of up to three years and fines of up to $10,000.|
|Florida||The punishment for a grand theft felony is 5 to 30 years imprisonment and fines from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the additional costs imposed by the court.|
|Texas||For state jail felony theft, the sentence is 180 days to 2 years.For third- and second-degree felony theft, the prison sentence is 2 to 20 years, and fines up to $10,000.
For grand theft felony, the punishment is 5 to 99 years imprisonment and fines of up to $10,000.
|New York||Class E felonies: Up to 4 years of imprisonment.Class D felonies: Up to 7 years of imprisonment.
Class C felonies: Up to 15 years of imprisonment.
Class B felonies: 1 to 25 years of imprisonment.
First-time Offense Felony Theft
You should understand that felonies are violent crimes punishable by imprisonment. Being a first-time offender doesn’t automatically ensure that the defendant will expect leniency from the court.
Whether or not the offender receives alternate punishment depends on the court’s determination. However, in most cases, defendants who received non-prison penalties for felony convictions are first-time offenders.
Repeat Felony Theft Offense
Being a repeat offender, especially in felony cases, is an aggravating factor that might lead to harsher penalties. Even petty theft, which is stealing something that doesn’t have high value, can result in stiffer penalties if repeatedly done.
In California, the “three strikes” law where repeated offenders of crimes where this policy is applicable can receive punishment of up to 25 years imprisonment.
The policy states that if an offender has two prior violent or serious felony convictions, the next felony charge will result in a 25-year prison sentence.
What Are the Penalties for Larceny and Felony Theft?
As mentioned above, the main penalties for felony theft are prison time and fines. However, the fines and sentence lengths may vary among states.
On the other hand, the penalties for larceny, like felony theft, may differ between states. For instance, grand larceny has a prison time of 1 to 12 years in New York. However, the actual sentence depends on the judge’s decision.
Range of Penalties
The range of penalties for felony theft, larceny, and other criminal acts that fall under stealing is broad. Prison times and fines vary widely between some states, which makes it necessary for people getting entangled with this kind of criminal charge to find a competent criminal defense lawyer.
As previously mentioned, state laws’ penalties for theft and larceny are based on the stolen item’s value, any aggravating and mitigating factors, and the judge’s determination.
Circumstances or facts surrounding a crime that can increase its severity and punishment are called aggravating factors. Such factors can also vary between states.
For instance, in Maryland, aggravating factors for felony theft are the following:
- The defendant has a previous crime on record
- The defendant is an employee of the establishment they’re stealing from
- The presence of violent acts when the theft is committed
Theft and Larceny: Felony vs. Misdemeanor Offense
Theft is typically regarded as an umbrella term for different types of stealing. On the other hand, larceny can be under that umbrella as it is stealing or carrying away another person’s property and permanently depriving them of its use.
Theft and larceny are very similar in definition. The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) used the phrase “larceny-theft” as an umbrella term for stealing. Both theft and larceny are criminal acts that can be considered felonies due to aggravating factors.
Property Value Felonies
One main factor determining whether the defendant can be charged with felony theft is the property’s value. On average, the United States average felony theft threshold is $1,184.
It means that a defendant stealing an item or property that exceeds the U.S. average can get a felony theft conviction once proven.
Another factor determining whether a defendant can be charged with felony theft is the type of item or property they stole.
For instance, a defendant stealing a firearm or motor vehicle, even if its value is below the U.S. average threshold, can be charged with felony theft.
Criminal History Felonies
Misdemeanors can be considered felonies when the defendant is a repeat offender or recidivist. It means that the defendant may have previous theft cases or other crimes on record.
There are states where the prosecutor can file a felony theft charge based on the total value of all the items or property the defendant stole in a specific period.
For instance, the defendant shoplifts small items from a store that are considerably less in value than the state’s felony threshold.
However, suppose the total value of all shoplifted items exceeds the state’s threshold. In that case, the defendant can be charged with felony theft.
Degrees of Felony Theft or Larceny
States may have different degrees or levels of felony theft or larceny. The most severe types are first-degree felonies, with the harshest punishments. On the other hand, the lowest degree in some states is fifth-degree felonies.
How to Reduce Felonies to Misdemeanors
When confronted with a legal dilemma such as a felony charge, it’s best to seek the help of law offices that offer criminal defense services.
In the case of felony theft, you should seek the services of a theft lawyer to help you overturn the case or, at most, reduce the penalties to a lower charge.
According to some legal experts, there are four ways to reduce felonies to misdemeanors:
1. Seek a plea bargain: Through the help of their defense lawyers, the defendant can strike a deal with the prosecution to drop the felony case in exchange for pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
2. Complete probation: The defendant can request to reduce the criminal charge from felony to misdemeanor through completion of the probation. Courts use probation as an alternative sentencing option to imprisonment.
The defendant strictly conforms to the terms and conditions of probation, such as regular reporting to a probation officer and completing rehabilitation programs.
3. Complete diversion: The defendant can reduce their sentence by joining a diversion program if allowed by the court. This initiative is a rehabilitation program that a defendant must complete in lieu of a prison sentence.
The defendant has to plead guilty to the crime. The judge then hands down the sentence but suspends it and orders the defendant to enter a diversion program.
Here are the requirements to participate in the program:
- The defendant must be a first-time offender or have very little on their criminal record.
- The defendant is not prone to reoffend.
- The defendant is accused of a nonviolent crime.
4. Prove that the charges are unsupported by facts: This is especially crucial in “wobbler cases” or criminal charges that can both be felonies or misdemeanors, depending on the crime’s severity.
The defense can point out that key elements of the crime are not supported by evidence and request the reduction of the felony charge to a misdemeanor.
Factors That Influence the Decision
In a criminal case, the judge can determine the punishment given to a defendant based on available sentencing guidelines.
The judge’s decision results from systematically determining facts and evidence submitted in court. However, other determinants can influence a decision.
- The defendant’s behavior
- Their criminal history
- The defendant’s probation performance
- Their potential career situation
- An impending background check
What Changes With a Reduction?
One benefit a defendant can get from a reduction is the chance to have a particular criminal record destroyed or sealed from the public through expungement.
For instance, in California, a defendant can request expungement after the court reduces the felony charge to a misdemeanor. Once the judge grants the expungement, it restores some of the defendant’s civil rights.
Speak With an Attorney
When you or a loved one is confronted with a legal issue, like a felony charge, it’s best to seek legal advice from a criminal defense attorney. There are law firms available that provide free consultations for people in need of legal assistance.
A good attorney-client relationship is crucial in complicated cases like a felony theft charge. Scheduling an initial consultation at the earliest possible time is best.
As mentioned, criminal cases can get bumped due to a criminal record. It’s best to submit all documents to one’s legal team to determine the best action.
If you need a handy website to get all the necessary documents to help your defense lawyer build a case, visit LookUpInmate.org.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. When does a state charge theft as a felony?
The state considers the committed theft as a felony if:
- The value of the stolen item exceeds the state’s felony theft threshold.
- The stolen item or property is a firearm or a motor vehicle.
- The total value of the item stolen over a specific time exceeds the state’s felony theft threshold.
- The defendant is a repeat offender or recidivist.
2. Do states consider other factors in deciding whether theft is a felony offense?
States may consider other factors when determining whether to charge a defendant with a felony, including:
- If the accused stole the item from a location like a school or a place of worship
- Whether the offense happened on government property
- If the defendant has a previous theft, burglary, or robbery charge
3. Can a defendant challenge a theft charge with a legal defense?
Yes, especially with the help of sound legal advice from criminal law experts. The outcome of a theft defense may not always be an acquittal. Still, it can help lower the charges or get the defendant into a probation or diversion program.
4. How much should stolen goods amount to for the case to be considered a felony theft?
U.S. states have varying felony theft thresholds determining whether the defendant can be charged with a felony offense. The felony theft threshold may be as low as $950, like in California, or as high as $2,500, like in Texas.
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