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What is Misdemeanor Theft?

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Theft is the generic term used to cover all acts of intentionally and fraudulently taking property of another person without permission or consent. Misdemeanor theft, also referred to as petty theft, is synonymous with larceny, both as petty larceny and grand larceny. Misdemeanor theft is used when the value of the property taken is low, usually $500 or less, but this distinction varies from state to state. When the property has a higher value the crime can then be considered grand theft and may be punished as a felony.

Several different crimes involve theft and are distinguished from one another by the way the property was taken. Robbery occurs when property is taken from another person by force. Burglary is taking property by illegally entering a building. Embezzlement is stealing cash or property from an employer.

A misdemeanor theft will usually be prosecuted as a class C misdemeanor or a class B misdemeanor, depending on the value of the stolen property. A class C misdemeanor will not involve jail time and will generally having a punishment of any or all of the following: restitution to the victim, a fine, probation, a court-ordered theft diversion program or community service. Successfully completing the terms of the punishment will often get the charges removed from your criminal record.

A larger theft that still doesn't rise to the level of grand theft can be considered a class B misdemeanor. Prosecution can include a jail term of up to six months, but for a first offense the punishment will most likely include the same terms of a class C misdemeanor but with a larger fine and longer probation period. The courts also may not be as willing to seal your criminal record or remove the charges for a larger theft.

Grand theft or grand larceny, as defined by each state, is prosecuted as a state felony, but this is not the only way to have a theft prosecuted as a felony. Multiple convictions of misdemeanor theft can get an otherwise simple crime enhanced to a felony. Some states require two prior convictions before enhancing a misdemeanor theft to a felony; other states require just one prior conviction. Additionally, states that have a “three strikes” law can use an enhanced misdemeanor theft charge as a third strike to put the offender in prison for 25 years to life.

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