“Theft” is a universal legal term used to characterize criminal offenses involving the illicit taking of another person's property without consent. Due to the term's relatively broad legal meaning, theft encompasses a plethora of crimes that consist of varied grades and degrees of severity under Pennsylvania law. The state has criminalized nearly every aspect of the concept of theft, convicting persons for stealing, obtaining stolen property, and merely being involved in the commission of a theft crime.
People commit theft crimes for a variety of reasons - some of which could be justified in the sights of empathetic people. Nonetheless, the uncompromising stigma that clings to those labeled “thieves” makes for relentless prosecutors and judges, as penalties are imposed regardless of a defendant's apparent intentions or motivations. With this notion in mind, it's important for individuals accused of theft crimes to prioritize retaining a skilled defense attorney. Legal representation acquires the expertise to provide viable options, work towards a sentence reduction, or apply defenses to a case to prompt a dismissal.
Afterwards, accused persons should gain a comprehensive understanding of the state's abounding theft crimes and potential penalties. The steps clients take in the aftermath of allegations make all the difference in the outcome of a case. A well-informed client who thoroughly understands the gravity of their case is likely to make wise decisions. To aid you in this step, I've provided an extensive overview of theft crimes in the state of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Theft Laws
Overall, theft is defined as the unauthorized taking of property from another person with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. In order to constitute any form of a theft crime, there must be sufficient evidence to support two elements: (1) a defendant intentionally took another person's property without permission, and (2) this property was taken with intentions of keeping it from them forever. The illicit “taking” of property that belongs to another is the crux of any theft crime. The element of “intent,” meaning the circumstances in which it was taken, what was taken, and how it was taken is what distinguishes theft crimes.
For example, let's say you wait until your roommate goes to work to steal their diamond earrings. This form of theft is known as unlawful taking. However, if you go to a jewelry store and steal diamond earrings, it will be legally charged as shoplifting. Although similar items are stolen, the people or places who are deprived of the item involved differ. In Pennsylvania, these criminal actions will be charged as two distinctive crimes.
Movable vs. Immovable Property
Under state law, a person can be accused of stealing two types of property: movable and immovable property.
Movable property is defined as property than an individual owns, that can be physically taken away from them.
Example: A person accused of taking another person's wallet without their permissions would be facing allegations of stealing movable property.
Immovable property refers to property that remains in a fixed location and cannot physically be transferred or moved elsewhere. The taking of immovable property is oftentimes considered a white-collar crime.
Example: If someone were to transfer a deed to real estate to themselves without the permission of an estate owner, this action would constitute the unauthorized taking of immovable property.
Common Theft Crimes
As indicated above, theft encompasses a wide variety of crimes enforced in the state. A few of the crimes that I provide representation for are:
Theft by unlawful taking: Considered one of the most charged crime theft offenses, this crime is theft in its most elementary form. To convict a defendant of theft by unlawful taking, it must be proven that property was taken from another without their permission with intentions of permanently depriving them of it. Due to its indistinctness, it is rarely charged as a standalone crime.
Theft by deception: An individual will be found guilty of theft by deception if he or she obtains or withholds another person's property by misrepresentation or by creating a false impression.
Passing bad checks: A person commits the criminal offense of passing a bad check if they write a check they know will not be covered to receive a form of profit.
Forgery: Any attempt made to recreate something that isn't original - whether it be a financial instrument, a license, a document, or any other item - and attempt to pass it off as authentic to receive something in return warrants a forgery charge.
Receiving stolen property: This criminal offense is constituted when there is proof that a defendant has intentionally obtained, kept possession of, or disposed of someone else's stolen movable property. A conviction is possible if the defendant had reason to believe that item was stolen.
Intellectual property theft: The taking of someone's intellectual property, protected by a copyright, patent or trademark will expose a defendant to harsh state and potentially federal legal ramifications.
The grade and degree of penalties imposed in consequence of a theft crime are dependent upon the type of property involved and the value of the property involved. Many individuals have witnessed a seemingly minuscule detail in their case elevate what they thought would be a misdemeanor with minimal penalties to a felony crime carrying exceedingly harsh penalties. Here is an arbitrary penalty template that applies to the majority of theft crimes in Pennsylvania:
- Summary offense: if the property is worth less than $50 or there is no evidence as to the value of the property. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
- Second-degree misdemeanor: if the property is worth more than $50 but less than $200. This offense is punishable by a maximum prison term of no more than two years.
- First-degree misdemeanor: If the property is taken by force or threat (a robbery). Upon conviction, a person will be facing an imprisonment sentence that won't exceed five years.
- Third-degree felony: if the property stolen is a motor vehicle, such as a car, boat, motorcycle, or dirt bike or if the property is worth more than $2,000 and less than $500,000. This offense carries penalties of a maximum prison term of seven years.
- Second-degree felony: If the property stolen is a firearm, this crime is punishable by a maximum prison term of ten years.
- First-degree felony: if the prosecution can prove that the property stolen is a firearm and that the defendant in question had intentions of buying and selling firearms. A charge will also be elevated to the first degree if the stolen property is valued at $500,000 or more. Upon conviction, a person will be facing penalties of a minimum imprisonment term of at least 10 years.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Now that you know what you're up against, you can begin making smart decisions by consulting with an attorney. With over 15 years of experience, Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience representing clients in Pennsylvania who've acquired both misdemeanor and felony theft charges. He can do the same for you. If you have been charged with any of the theft crimes mentioned above, contact him today at 215-535-5353 for a consultation.