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. These factors, even if they may appear insignificant, could mean the difference between a small fine or several years in prison and difficulties obtaining jobs in the future.
Property Value and Severity of Penalties
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, also referred to as "Three Strikes" 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 more 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 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 often receive relatively lighter penalties for the same crime. 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.
Other Long-Term Consequences
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.
Questions About Theft Penalties and Sentencing? Ask an Attorney
Theft penalties and sentencing can have a significant impact on your life even for apparently minor crimes. Depending on your criminal history and your jurisdiction, even the theft of a candy bar could have a disproportionate impact on your future. If you've been charged with theft, you may want to contact a criminal defense attorney who will be there to fight for the best outcome in your case, whether it be an acquittal or a plea bargain.