What is Grand Theft? + Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Theft has been around as long as mankind has had individual property rights. Today, each state divides theft into various categories. The term ‘grand theft’ describes the theft of property above a specific dollar amount.

A theft happens when a person is deprived of their property by another person, with the intent to deprive that personal permanently. In federal and state law, ‘theft’ often describes many crimes that involve taking property, such as extortion, embezzlement and receiving stolen property. Unauthorized use of property also is considered theft.

However, grand theft applies to what is called larceny, which is the theft of tangible or personal property.

Usually, states used to differentiate between the two types of larceny: grand larceny and petty larceny. These two larceny types were based on the value of the property. Grand theft applied when the property was worth more than a certain dollar amount set by the specific state.

Today, many states have both theft and larceny laws that no longer make distinctions between grand theft and petty theft. All states do however have laws that impose penalties based on the property value.

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How to fight and win a grand theft case, explained by a former D.A. (now criminal defense lawyer). Grand theft is defined in California Penal Code 487 PC as stealing property from another person valued at over $950. Grant theft is a felony and conviction can trigger probation and up to 3 years of state prison. But many innocent people get wrongly accused of grand theft. It’s possible to fight the charges and many times get the case reduced or dismissed.

Grand Theft Laws

Under most state laws, grand theft is thought to be a more serious theft because the property is of higher value. One of the major differences in laws in the states is how much the property has to be worth before the crime is actually grand theft. For instance, in many states, the difference between petty theft and grand theft is usually $500. What this means in reality is that a person who steals a good worth $499 committed petty theft, and one who steals a good worth $500 committed grand theft.

In most grand theft cases, the deciding point regarding the law is to determine the value of the stolen piece of property. The prosecutor has to prove that the stolen property is over the minimum for grand theft, or the accused may not be accused of the crime.

Value can be determined through several methods, such as determining the fair market value of the property or the retail value.

Grand Theft Crimes and Charges

In some thefts, several people may work as one to steal valuable items, or one person can steal several items as part of one theft. In some states, the law might consider all of the property stolen from one owner or a single location. In such states, the value of each item is added together to find out if the theft is actually grand theft.

In other states, the value of several items may not be grouped as one, if there are different victims, or if there was one, unified plan to steal.

State theft laws have differing levels to meet the requirements for grand theft. Higher degrees represent more serious crimes and come with higher penalties. For instance, some states can punish first degree grand theft as any theft where the item is worth more than $100,000. Grand theft in the second degree may apply when the item is between $50,000 and $100,000. Third degree grand theft would be when the item is worth $501 to $50,000.

In Florida, grand theft in the 1st degree is for $100,000 or more, while grand theft in the 2nd degree is for $5000 or more but less than $10,000. Meanwhile grand theft in the 3rd degree is for items $5,000 or less. Some states, including Florida, state that it is a 3rd degree grand theft felony to steal a firearm, vehicle or a will.

Grand Theft Punishment

Grand theft has always been considered a felony, which means that the potential punishment would be at least a year in prison. Today, some state theft laws may still use grand theft as a term, but it is not always considered a felony:

  • Jail or prison time: For misdemeanors, you can be sentenced to a year in jail, while a felony for grand theft can involve from five to 20 years in prison. It largely depends on the value of the property. For truly expensive items, such as sport cars, more than 10 years in prison is possible.
  • Fines: Misdemeanor fines usually are $1000 or so, while felony fines are usually more than $100,000.
  • Restitution: If you are convicted for stealing something, the court usually will require that you pay restitution, plus any fines. Restitution is paid to the owner of the property, while a fine is then paid to the state.
  • Probation: The court also may order the person to serve probation, which can be from one to five years.

Grand Theft Sentencing Guidelines

There are many types of theft, and the guidelines for grand theft in particular will depend upon several factors. First, the type and value of the property stolen will determine if the crime is a misdemeanor or a felony.

As noted above, a misdemeanor offense may be punished by up to one year in jail. A felony can be punished by more than a year in jail. For higher priced items, the prison sentence can be more than 10 years.

Also, the defendant’s criminal background will have an effect on the sentencing guidelines. Last, if there was violence or threat of force, the sentence can be greater.

Grand Theft Statute of Limitations

Generally, the statute of limitations for misdemeanor grand theft is one year, while for a felony it is three years. Check your state laws to be certain.

Grand Theft Cases

Below are some of the recent grand theft crime cases of note:

  • Vanilla Ice: The famous rapper from the 1990s, whose real name is Robert Van Winkle, accepted a plea deal in 2015 for grand theft. He agreed to do 100 hours of community service and pay $1000 in restitution in exchange for the charges being dropped. (Fox News)
  • Lenny Dykstra: The former center fielder for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies was convicted and sentenced to three years in state prison in 2012 for his role in a grand theft auto case. (LA Times)
  • Patricia Perez-Gonzalez: A Miami bikini model and her boyfriend were accused of grand theft and grand larceny, as well as operating an identity theft ring that accumulated $2 million in phony charges (NY Post)

Grand Theft Quick Links and References

Grand Theft Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming