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Theft/Larceny is generally defined as taking almost any valuables without the owner’s consent, with the intention of permanently depriving him of the value of the property taken. In addition, most states recognize degrees of theft, such as “grand” or “mean”, which are generally related to the value of the property taken.

For example, Emma goes to Peter’s music store, puts two CDs in his pocket, and goes out the door. If Emma had stolen Peter’s car from the parking lot, Emma would likely be charged with major theft/larceny.

The term theft is widely used to designate crimes involving the taking of property from a person without their authorization. But theft has a vast legal significance that can encompass more than one category and several degrees of crime. In this section, you can find a broad overview of theft, as well as a breakdown of its elements. Some common defenses to theft charges are also included here, plus a general look at the range of penalties and sentences faced by offenders.

An experienced Broward criminal lawyer should be able to help you if you’re charged with theft.

Theft Defenses

There are a number of defenses that may apply in theft cases. Assuming that the defendant took possession of the property, here are some of the most typical defenses that may apply.

Claim Of Right Or Ownership Of Property

A person accused of theft of property can have a valid defense if he can establish that he believed in good faith the property he took was theirs or that they had a valid claim to it. Although a somewhat straightforward defense, it is not as simple as just claiming, “I thought it was mine”. Typically, a defendant will have to provide evidence to support their claim.


It may be possible to successfully defend charges of theft if an accused can establish that he was intoxicated at the time of the alleged theft. Regardless of the type of intoxication, alcohol, chemicals, or drugs, if an individual could not form the required intent to steal (for example, in their intoxicated state, they mistakenly thought that an article belonged to them) may have a viable defense against intoxication.

Return Of Property As A Defense

People often wonder whether returning stolen property can provide a defense against theft or prevent charges from being laid in the first place. Unfortunately, the return of stolen property does not generally constitute a defense against a charge of theft. However, it can undoubtedly paint a nicer picture for a prosecutor for a possible plea agreement and can also help reduce the penalties in a case.

However, a different and viable defense may exist if a defendant is able to establish that he intended to return the property at the time it was taken and actually could do so. It is quite common to defend theft charges by claiming that the property had just been “borrowed”.


The entrapment defense applies when an individual commits a crime but was induced to do so by someone to prosecute the target. For example, in the event of theft, the defense against entrapment could apply if the idea or intention to steal came from the trapped person. However, the victim of entrapment is incited to commit the theft to apprehend and prosecute the targeted individual.

Theft Penalties And Sentencing

Sanctions and penalties for theft can range from minor to severe, with a number of factors at play.

First and foremost, the type and value of property stolen will typically determine whether minor (misdemeanor) or major (felony) charges are brought. In cases where relatively low-value goods are stolen, small or petty theft charges may result. States often place a specific dollar amount, such as $ 500 or $ 1,000, as the upper limit for small flight costs.

These charges are typically misdemeanors that carry fines or relatively short jail times of less than a year. However, even in petty theft cases, there can still be major penalties in states with applicable recidivist or repeat offender sentencing laws.

For cases involving higher value stolen property, especially property whose value exceeds the limitations discussed above, a person may face charges of “grand theft”, which is a crime. Felony charges are very serious and typically result in fines, restitution, and jail time. Other categories of theft, such as grand theft auto, may also have different laws which apply with specific charges and heightened penalties.

Regardless of the type of theft charged, an offender’s history of theft or related offenses significantly affects sentencing, with repeat offenders being less lenient. In contrast, first-time offenders can receive relatively lighter sentences.

A defendant’s criminal history that is unrelated to theft can also play a factor in sentencing, as judges generally have sizeable discretion with sentencing decisions. On the other hand, judges can also consider extenuating (or sympathetic) circumstances when proposing a punishment for a crime.

Most types of theft are classified by law as “moral turpitude” offenses. Having one of these types of offenses on file can have severe consequences for offenders. One of the primary impacts is felt in a former convict’s ability to find employment. Convictions for crimes of moral turpitude, particularly felonies, may be discovered in background checks or job applications and could disqualify job applicants. In addition, foreign residents in the country may be deported or suffer other immigration consequences when found guilty of the crime of moral turpitude.

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