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Definition of Larceny

Definition of Larceny

Larceny is what most people think of as common theft - the taking of someone else's property without the use of force. The Model Penal Code and the laws of several states place larceny and certain other property crimes under the general category of theft. However, there are some states that retain the traditional common-law distinctions in which larceny is its own crime, separate from other property crimes like embezzlement or robbery.

The Elements of Larceny

The following elements must be proven in order to obtain a conviction for larceny:

  • The unlawful taking and carrying away;
  • Of someone else's property;
  • Without the consent of the owner; and
  • With the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property.

Unlawful Taking

The first stage in a larceny involves the unlawful taking of another's property. So the removal or appropriation of property for a lawful purpose is not larceny, such as when a bank repossesses a car for non-payment.

Some states also require that the taker carry the property away. For immovable property, carrying away can be satisfied where the perpetrator has taken control of the property and removed its use and enjoyment from the owner.

Someone Else's Property

For larceny to apply, the property in question must belong to someone else. If it belongs to the person taking it, then larceny would not apply. This is true even if one's property was in the possession of another at the time it was taken. For example, it's not larceny when someone takes back a lawnmower lent to a neighbor who failed to return it. In these situations, the only thing that matters is whether the person in control of the property had a better legal claim to the property than the person who took it.

People who co-own property can also commit larceny if they deprive any co-owners of their right to the property. So, if three friends jointly purchase a computer and one of the friends moves away with the computer without the consent of the other friends, this would constitute larceny.

Without the Owner's Consent

Even if someone intends to steal a piece of property, no larceny occurs if the owner consents to the transfer of ownership of the property. However, it would be a crime if the owner transferred the property due to another person's deceit or fraud, although these situations are covered by other property crimes.

The Taker's Intent

The final element of larceny involves the taker's intent to permanently deprive the owner of the use and enjoyment of the property. In other words, if the person who took the property intended to eventually give it back, this would not constitute larceny.

Larceny is a specific intent crime, which means that the person taking the property must specifically intend to commit larceny. So in a situation where a person reasonably believes that they own the property they are taking, they would not have the specific intent of required for larceny.

Degrees of Larceny

States usually separate larceny into different categories based on the value of the item stolen. "Grand" larceny applies to higher-value items, and "petit" (or "petty") larceny applies to items of lesser value. Each state legislature decides the amount that divides a grand larceny from a petty larceny. States will also treat some larcenies as felonies, and others as misdemeanors.

One Larceny or Several?

A common question that arises in larceny prosecutions is whether one larceny has occurred, or several. Generally, multiple items stolen from the same owner at the same time will form one larceny, but some states allow prosecutors to charge such a situation as multiple larcenies.

Courts often look at the timing and locations of larcenies to determine whether they formed part of a single activity or several. If part of a single activity, only one larceny has occurred. If there were multiple activities, however, then there were also multiple larcenies.

The determination of the number of larcenies can affect the number and severity of the larceny charges. For example, if multiple takings form one instance of larceny, the amount of the items taken could push the larceny into the realm of a felony. On the other hand, if the multiple takings each formed a single occurrence of larceny, the defendant may face multiple lesser misdemeanor counts. This determination could have a great impact on the punishment the defendant receives.

Get a Free Review of Your Larceny Case Today

Prosecutors often have some leeway when it comes to theft crimes. That's why it's important to have a strong criminal defense attorney on your side, one who can challenge the evidence in your case and even plea down charges. Get in touch with an attorney near you today for a free preliminary review of your case.

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