Theft is one of those crimes that everybody believes they understand. After all, how difficult could it be to define the unlawful taking of property? However, there are several different types of theft and there are some situations that the average person would call theft but the law does not.
To get a sense of how this particular crime works, we’ll first look at how Pennsylvania’s law defines theft. From there we’ll explore the potential penalties that you face should you be found guilty of theft. We’ll finish up by looking at what steps you should take to defend yourself if you are charged with theft.
How Does Pennsylvania Define Theft?
We find Pennsylvania’s definition of theft under The Pennsylvania Criminal Code 18 Pa.C.S. Sec. 3921. Here it is broken up into two categories based not on price but on how movable the stolen object was. Theft by unlawful taking or disposition is divided into:
- Movable Property: As stated, “A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with intent to deprive him thereof.” So this would be the theft of a TV, cash, jewelry, things of that nature.
- Immovable Property: As described, “A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully transfers, or exercises unlawful control over, immovable property of another or any interest therein with interest to benefit himself or another not entitled thereto.” This would be the charge if you tried to steal a house or a plot of land.
Most theft cases are for movable property, but this isn’t always the case. What is interesting is that both of these definitions imply another human being is the target. This is true, in Pennsylvania you have to steal from another person to be charged with theft.
If you steal from a store, then you face a charge of retail theft which is a misdemeanor that increases in punishments based on how much was stolen. Theft is also not the same as burglary, wherein you must have entered into the dwelling with the intent to steal. Often, however, burglary cases can be argued down to theft or theft can be upgraded to burglary, depending on the details of the case.
What Are the Potential Penalties for Theft in Pennsylvania?
The penalties for theft get worse depending on the value of what you stole, just like it does with retail theft. However, these punishments are quite a bit worse than those for retail theft as even the lightest of them could see you behind bars for a year.
The potential penalties for theft in Pennsylvania are:
- Theft of Less Than $50: If the total value of what you have stolen is within this range then the crime is a misdemeanor of the third degree. That could see you facing up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
- Theft of $50 to $200: If the total value of what you have stolen is within this range then the crime is a misdemeanor of the second degree. That could see you facing up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
- Theft of $200 to $2,000: If the total value of what you have stolen is within this range then the crime is a misdemeanor of the first degree. That could see you facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
- Theft of More Than $2,000: If the total value of what you have stolen is within this range then the crime is a felony of the third degree. That could see you facing up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
You’ll notice that even theft of less than $50 could leave you paying for a $2,500 fine. Assuming there was any money to be had in the object stolen, that would be a loss of $2,450. This makes stealing from another person an incredibly costly crime.
Consider these in contrast with the lowest retail theft law:
- Less than $150 in stolen merchandise could face 90 days in jail and a fine of $300
There is a very big difference between the way these crimes are punished and it is important that you realize just how serious theft is taken in Pennsylvania.
What Should I Do If I’m Charged With Theft in Pennsylvania?
It is important that you take your charges seriously. After all, we’ve already looked at just how rough the punishments for theft are. One of the best things you can do is to hire an experienced lawyer.
Beating charges within the legal system requires an exhaustive knowledge of how it functions and the letter of the law, as well as the ability to convince a jury of your peers of your innocence. That takes the knowledge and skill that you’ll find in a good attorney.
Your attorney should also be present whenever you speak with law enforcement officers or prosecutors. A common tactic is to convince you that you’re just having an off-the-record conversation, or just being friendly, in order to trick you into admitting something you should or even agreeing to outright falsehoods. An attorney will ensure you are tricked into traps of this nature.
As close to your arrest as possible, write down an account of everything you went through. Include everything you can remember, no detail is too small. Details that might not seem to be important can end up playing a major role in your defense. The important part is to get an account of what happened down on paper to share with whatever attorney you hire.
I’ve Been Charged With Theft, Can You Help?
With years of experience, R. Davis Younts, Esq., has just the type of knowledge you need to defend against theft charges. There are many approaches to defending an individual from a charge of theft, but determining the right approach for your case will require the unique details of your case. Reach out today for a consultation to see how R. Davis Younts, Esq., can help today.