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Petty Theft

What Is Petty Theft?

Most state laws cover both grand and petty theft. Petty theft involves property or objects of low value.

The value of the property in question determines whether a court considers it petty or grand theft. For example, in some states, the bar for petty theft could include any item worth less than $1000.

Have you or someone you know been caught stealing something of insubstantial value? Perhaps you were falsely accused and had nothing to do with the crime. Nevertheless, whatever the case may be, you face charges of petty theft.

Possible Penalties

Can you go to jail for committing a petty theft? The penalties and punishment for petty theft or petit larceny vary from state to state. Here are a few types of punishments you can expect:

  • A monetary fine: The court determines the fine amount.
  • Imprisonment: If this is your first offense, then you could have prison time up to a year. For second-time offenders, this could extend one year. 
  • Community service: You must complete unpaid work for a specific number of hours for the community.
  • Probation: The court observes and monitors your behavior until it sees fit to consider your punishment served. 
  • Diversion: You must take rehabilitation programs or classes designed to remedy criminal behavior.

In most cases, offenders get a combination of the above punishments.

Is Petty Theft a Felony or Misdemeanor?

Most states classify petty theft as a misdemeanor for all first-time offenders. A misdemeanor is a crime for which the punishment does not exceed a year of imprisonment. A felony is a more severe crime whose punishment exceeds one year of imprisonment.

Now, if you receive a petty theft charge for a second time as a repeat offender, most states consider the crime a felony. However, regardless of your criminal record, you have the right to legal representation in court. Even if you are guilty of the crime and feel like the evidence is completely stacked against you, the right attorney can help reduce your sentence.

Is Petit Larceny the Same as Petty Theft?

Petit larceny is usually used synonymously with petty theft; it is a matter of terminology. Some states, such as Nevada, have laws against petit larceny. However, it comprises the same elements as petty theft.

Petty Theft and Non-Citizens

As with all crimes, petty theft charges have different implications for immigrants. This is because the crime of petty theft falls under a class called “crimes of moral turpitude.” Now, moral turpitude implies that the crime gravely violates community standards.

A crime like this deeply affects your ability to stay within a country and can also jeopardize future visits. Count on officials using your conviction against you if you apply for citizenship in the U.S. If you are an immigrant accused of committing petty theft, then seek the legal help you need to defend yourself in court.

Common Examples

Petty theft or petty larceny can take various forms:

  • Eating a meal at a restaurant and leaving before you pay
  • Shoplifting in a supermarket or retail store
  • Watching a film at a theater without paying for the ticket
  • Stealing random objects from a hotel room
  • Re-using a film ticket to watch a completely different movie
  • Sneaking into a match or concert without purchasing a proper ticket
  • Stealing a library book
  • Stealing someone else’s dog, cat or any other pet

Are you or someone you know accused of committing a crime like this? If so, do not lose hope. You can defend yourself against charges of theft or larceny in several ways.

Common Defenses Against Petty Theft Charges

The defense you use in court depends on the circumstances of your case. The following are a few general defenses to consider if you face trial:

  • An honest mistake: This is an especially common defense against charges of shoplifting. Here, you must prove you had no reason to believe your actions were wrong.
  • Mistaken identity: It could be you were falsely accused, or that you were mistaken for the real perpetrator who got away. 
  • Coercion: If you committed the offense under duress or threat, then it is a good defense against your charges.
  • A claim of right: Proving that the item in question belonged to you can invalidate the prosecution’s claims. 
  • Entrapment: Entrapment is when someone tricks or deceives you into committing an offense you would not otherwise commit. This is a common strategy among law enforcement officers when they want to prosecute someone for a crime.
  • Consent: If the property owner consented to you taking or using the item in question; it is not a crime. Similarly, you can also prove you had sufficient reason to believe you had the owner’s consent.
  • Lack of intent: This defense requires you to prove you had absolutely no intention of stealing or committing a similar offense. 

Wondering whether any of these legal defenses apply to your situation? If so, get advice from a reputable legal advocate.

When to Hire a Petty Theft Attorney for Your Charges

Do you face accusal of a crime that you did not commit? Are you a first-time offender? Maybe you are a repeat offender facing a felony charge. Whatever your circumstance, you must get the legal advice and representation you deserve.

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