Violent crimes are some of the most sensational crimes around – such as rape, murder, and arson. These are the things that people think about when they think about crime. However, the vast majority of crimes that are committed are property crimes and the number one property crime is theft.
One of the Most Common Crimes
Theft is one of the oldest crimes, one of the most common crimes, and it’s one of the crimes with the longest statute about it. And that’s because in Maryland at least theft has been consolidated the way that it used to be written or the way that the common law used to be set up, theft would be broken down into different sections.
Embezzlement was separate from theft, types of fraud or separate from theft. Maryland has a consolidated theft statute, which means that all these types of things are all just theft. Still, it’s a long statute because there’s a lot of different ways that one can go about stealing and the statute wants to make sure that it covers all of them. The statute breaks down into five distinct areas. We all have a lot of things in common. So, I’m going to talk about the first area as the most common, and I’ll just refer you back to that one.
The first type of theft is simple control of the property of another. It requires that the defendant has willfully or knowingly control property that belongs to another person with the intent to permanently deprive that person of the property or with the knowledge that they’re going to do something to that property that would permanently deprive the owner, the rightful owner of that property. That sounds relatively complicated at its core.
What is Theft?
Theft is when someone intentionally takes something that belongs to another person, knowing that it belongs to another person and not intending to give it back. That’s what a theft is at its core, and that’s what the first type of theft is.
Next is the same thing, taking something from someone else, obtaining it from someone else, but instead of physically taking it from someone, you use deception to get it. So if you lie to someone to get them to give you something that is still a theft. The law treats it the same as simply taking something.
Next is possession of stolen property. Now, possession of stolen property is exactly what it sounds like. If you have property that you know is stolen or reasonably should know is stolen in your possession and you don’t take reasonable steps to get it back to the owner of that property, or at least take reasonable steps to find out who the owner is, you can be charged with theft of that item.
One thing that’s key to point out is your intent matters. So for example, if you go grab a phone off the table thinking it’s your phone and you later find out that it is not yours, up until the moment that you find out that it’s not yours, you haven’t committed a single crime, the intent to permanently deprive someone of an item is a key element of theft.
However, if you discover that phone is not yours and you say to yourself, well, I’m just going to hold on to this, I think it’s mine now the other person’s not going to miss it. That is the point at which the theft occurs, and you are now committing theft this way. Probably possession of stolen property, but it could still be obtaining or holding onto something that you know isn’t someone else.
Stolen or Lost Property
Next is stolen or lost property. And this goes along with what I was saying about possession of stolen property. If property gets delivered to you by mistake or you find property that is lost, you have to take reasonable steps to get that property back to the owner to find out who that owner is. If you don’t do that, it’s theft.
Finally, in order to be theft, you don’t necessarily have to be stealing any thing. You can also be stealing a service. Typically, this is going to be done by deception, right? A level of fraud is going to be involved, but if you get someone to do something for you that they would normally charge for and then you don’t pay them for it, that is a theft.
What Are the Penalties for Theft?
Now, the penalties for theft vary only based on how much is stolen. The type of theft, those five different types that I just went through, don’t matter. The penalties are exactly the same. The only thing that matters is what is stolen and what the pro, what the value of that item is. So, I’ll start with the least serious and move to the most serious:
• The least serious is theft of less than $100. This is a misdemeanor. It carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a maximum fine of $500. That’s it. Theft of less than a hundred dollars misdemeanor, maximum penalty of 90 days, maximum fine of $500.
• The other type of misdemeanor theft is theft of at least $100, but less than $1,500. Again, this is a misdemeanor and on a first offense, it carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine. That amount of jail can increase. However, it is not a first offense.
• On a second, third, or fourth offense, maximum jail time goes up to one year and on a fifth or later offense, it goes up to five years. So even though it’s a misdemeanor, it can carry some hefty penalties, especially if you’ve been convicted of it a lot.
What About Felony Theft?
Next are the felonies.
So between $1,500 to 25,000 is the least serious felony – still a felony though carries a maximum penalty of up to five years. In prison. Prison, the maximum fine of $10,000.
Next, between 25,000 and 100,000, again, a felony carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of 15,000.
Finally, anything over a hundred thousand dollars is again, a felony carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, maximum fine of $25,000.
Paying Back Restitution
The other thing that every single theft, whether it’s misdemeanor or a felony involves, is paying back restitution. If you’ve taken something from someone and you’re convicted of that, then you are obligated by law to either return the item that was taken or pay them back for it. It doesn’t matter what type of theft.
What About Shoplifting?
Shoplifting isn’t a special statute, it’s not something different. In Maryland, shoplifting simply refers to stealing something from a store. It’s charged as a theft. It prosecutes as a theft; you must prove it the exact same way. But when someone is stealing something from a store, it’s often referred to as shoplifting.
There’s a lot that can go into proving a theft, and so there’s a lot that can go into defending against a theft as well. Thefts are extremely common, and if you have been charged with theft, then it’s important that you reach out to an attorney right away. There are a lot of things that can be done in your defense. If you need help, you should reach out to us at Parè & Associates. We are always happy to help.