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What is Theft?

Theft, which is legally synonymous with larceny, is the dishonest action of taking property that belongs to another person with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of the property. For the offense to be committed, all parts of the definition must be shown.

There are two specific parts to a theft charge. First, there must be an actual act of taking, using, or moving something without the knowledge or permission of the true owner of the thing in question. Second, the individual moving or taking the item must fully know that the property belonged to someone else. For example, in an individual takes an item belonging to another person mistakenly, it is not considered theft since there were no dishonest intentions. Theft can occur with many different types of property such:

• Money

• Movable property

• Domestic animals

• Gold, precious stones, valuable minerals

• Documents or titles to land or real estate

Charges for theft or offenses regarding theft include different forms of theft such as shoplifting, pick-pocketing, purse-snatching, identity theft, motor vehicle theft, theft by fraud and deceit, theft of trade secrets, theft of rental property, theft by receiving, theft of fuel, theft by writing a bad check, theft of medical records, newspaper theft, or perhaps theft by resale of a coupon or lift ticket. Depending on the jurisdiction, theft charges can be included also in other offenses such as robbery or burglary.
In the United States, plenary regulation of theft only exists at the local state level, in the sense that the majority of thefts by default are prosecuted by the U.S. state in which the theft occurred. However, the federal government has narrowly criminalized certain categories of theft which have a direct effect on the federal agencies or on interstate commerce.

While many states in the United States have kept larceny as the main offense, a few states have also adopted theft provisions. In some states, repeat offenders who keep committing acts of theft can become subject to life in prison.

As a general rule, nearly all legal systems distinguish between petty theft and grand theft depending on the value of the item that was stolen. For example, a person stealing a car would be charged with grand theft, since cars are generally valuable, while stealing someone's shoes would be petty theft. In both situations, the thief expects to benefit in some way from the stolen object, while the original owner of the item suffers as a result of the loss of the object.

Types of Theft

There are also several different kinds of theft. For example, in a case of theft by trick, an individual tricks another individual into giving up an object which belongs to them. For example, an individual could pretend to be law enforcement and tell a victim that the item is being confiscated, but in reality the offender is stealing the item from the individual. There is also theft by false pretenses, for example by selling a stolen car while pretending that the offender is the true owner of the car. A third type of theft is theft by false promise, where the individual gives an item with the understanding that some sort of service will be provided in return, but the service is never actually rendered.

One of the defining characteristics of theft is that the act is nonviolent. Because of this, theft without violence is much less heavily punishable in comparison to a crime where the theft is accompanied with violence, like a robbery where violence occurs against the people or the property.

Depending on the item stolen, the crime may not be referred to a simply a crime. For example, a theft of physical, tangible property is often called larceny. However, when theft occurs involving cases where intangible stealing occurs, such as fraud by engaging in financial transactions that are fraudulent, these actions are still considered theft, but not larceny.

The most common types of theft include the following:

Auto theft: The theft of a motor vehicle such as a car, truck, bus, motorcycle, golf cart, moped, or other motorized vehicles

Petty Theft: The theft of object with a value that is beneath a certain limit. While the limit varies by state, it is often placed at $400.

Felony Theft: Also called grand theft. This theft is anything over a certain limit set by the state. It is typically over $4000.

Theft by Embezzlement: Theft that occurs when property has been entrusted to an individual is stolen. Individuals who have a relationship of trust or a fiduciary duty can be guilty of this form of theft.

Theft by Deception: Includes false pretenses, where an individual is deceived into giving up ownership of an item due to a lie, and larceny by trick, which a person is simply tricked into giving the property to the offender.

Theft by Possession: Theft that occurs by simply being in possession of stolen property, and knowing that it was stolen.

The Punishment of Theft

The specific punishment after being charged and proven of theft depends entirely on the laws of the specific state where the act occurred. Generally speaking, the crime of simple theft is more often considered a certain level of a misdemeanor, meaning that the offender cannot be punished by the court for the crime of theft for more than one year in jail. However, the severity of this punishment relies entirely on state's laws. This includes both the fines the offender is subject to, and the time that may be spend in jail or community sentence .

However, in all states in the United States, the specific length of the maximum sentence for theft will increase based on the monetary value of the stolen property. For example, if all other circumstances were equal, the crime of theft of an item with the value of $500 would result in a longer maximum sentence than the theft of an item worth only $5. The specific monetary values and lengths of maximum sentence vary between states.

Furthermore, there are limits to the monetary value of the stolen item that changes the offense from a theft that is a misdemeanor to a felony. A felony for theft can be punishable by a minimum of one year in prison, and a monetary amount that will vary between sates. Not unlike the misdemeanor theft charge, the property value is a very important fact in determining the maximum sentence for the crime between states.

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