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Petty Theft vs Grand Theft (Legally Explained in 2024)

Petty theft and grand theft are both theft crimes, but they differ primarily in the value of the property stolen and the severity of the penalties. Petty theft is generally the theft of property or money that is below a certain value set by state law, whereas grand theft involves the theft of property or money that exceeds the threshold for petty theft.
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What is Petty Theft?

According to CDL, theft, also known as larceny, is the taking of someone else’s property without consent and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property [1].

Petty theft, often referred to as misdemeanor theft, occurs when the value of the stolen item falls below a certain threshold, such as $500. When items are stolen from a retail establishment, this act is commonly known as shoplifting.

In certain states, petty theft laws encompass shoplifting or retail theft, while other states have distinct shoplifting statutes with separate penalties.

What is Grand Theft?

Grand theft typically involves theft of more valuable property compared to petty theft. In many states, theft is classified as grand theft when:

  • The value of the property taken exceeds a certain minimum amount (often around $1,000 or more).
  • The defendant takes the property directly from a person, but without using force or fear (if force or fear were involved, the crime would be considered robbery).
  • A specific type of property is stolen, such as a car, firearm, or animal, regardless of its actual market value.

A conviction for grand theft will typically come with felony penalties that increase as the seriousness of the crime increases.

Also Read: Grand Theft Person

What Distinguishes Petty Theft From Grand Theft?

State laws typically categorize theft crimes into two or more classifications.

Crimes punishable by a misdemeanor (a year or less jail time) are considered petty or misdemeanor theft, while crimes punishable as felonies (more than a year in prison) are referred to as grand or felony theft.

Most states use theft thresholds based on the value of the stolen property to differentiate between petty and grand theft. These thresholds vary by state; for example, petty theft in one state may involve stealing property valued at less than $500, while in another state, the threshold might be set higher, such as at $2,500.

If the value of the stolen property exceeds that amount, the charges escalate to grand or felony theft. Additionally, the type of stolen property can also influence the classification. For instance, some states consider the theft of a firearm or motor vehicle—regardless of its value—to be grand theft.

What is the Penalty for Grand Theft?

To successfully prosecute a Grand Theft case, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant knowingly and unlawfully obtained, used or attempted to use another person’s property.
  • The defendant did so with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the victim of their property.
  • The property was valued at $300 or more.

Property value will be established by looking at the fair market value of the property at the time and place that the offense was committed. If this is not discoverable, the value will be based on how much it would cost to replace the stolen property within a reasonable amount of time after the offense occurred.

The punishment for Grand Theft is typically based on the value of the stolen property. Harsher penalties apply to more valuable items. There are three degrees of Grand Theft charges:

  1. Grand Theft of the Third Degree: This is a third-degree felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison or probation and a $5,000 fine. It applies when the stolen property is valued at more than $300 but less than $20,000, or if the item stolen is a will, firearm, or another item specifically listed in the statute.
  2. Grand Theft of the Second Degree: This is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison or probation and a $10,000 fine. It applies when the stolen property is valued at more than $20,000 but less than $100,000, or if the theft involves shipping cargo worth less than $50,000 or emergency medical equipment worth more than $300.
  3. Grand Theft of the First Degree: This is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison or probation and a $10,000 fine. It applies when the stolen property is valued at more than $100,000 or if the theft involves shipping cargo worth more than $50,000.

Larceny-Theft Statistics

  • In 2019, there were approximately 5,086,096 larceny thefts reported nationwide, showing a 2.8 percent decrease from the 2018 estimate. Compared to 2015, there was an 11.1 percent decrease and a notable 18.0 percent decrease from the 2010 estimate.
  • The rate of estimated larceny thefts in 2019 was 1,549.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. This rate saw a 3.3 percent decline from 2018 to 2019 and a substantial 22.7 percent decrease from 2010 to 2019.
  • Larceny thefts made up approximately 73.4 percent of property crimes in 2019. The average value of property taken during these incidents was $1,162 per offense, resulting in a national estimated loss of $5.9 billion when applied to the total number of larceny thefts.
  • Thefts from motor vehicles represented 27.1 percent of all larceny thefts reported in 2019.

Source: U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [3].

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