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Theft Penalties and Sentencing

The penalties and sentences for theft can range from the minor to the severe, with a number of factors coming into 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 property of relatively low value is stolen, petty or petit theft charges may result. States often place a specific dollar figure, such as $500 or $1,000, as the upper limit for petty theft charges. These charges are typically misdemeanors that carry fines or relatively short jail times of less than a year. However, even in cases of petty theft, there can still be major penalties in states with applicable recidivist or repeat offender sentencing laws.

For cases involving more valuable stolen property, specifically property whose value exceeds the limit discussed above, an individual may face charges of "grand theft", which is a felony. 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 separate laws which apply with specific charges and heightened penalties.

Regardless of the type of theft that is charged, an offender's history of theft or related crimes has a significant effect on sentencing, with repeat offenders receiving less leniency, while first time offenders may receive relatively lighter penalties. A defendant's criminal history that is unrelated to theft can also play a factor at sentencing, as judges generally have sizeable discretion with sentencing decisions. On the flip side, judges also may consider mitigating (or sympathetic) circumstances when coming up with a punishment for a crime.

Most types of theft are classified by law as crimes of "moral turpitude". Having one of these types of offenses on your record can carry significant 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. Additionally, resident aliens in the country may face deportation or other immigration consequences upon conviction for a crime of moral turpitude.

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