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For many people, their first contact with the criminal justice system comes when they are charged with a theft offense for shoplifting. However, Pennsylvania theft crimes cover far more than retail theft, and some of the charges are far more severe. Find out the most common Pennsylvania theft crimes, their penalties, and what you can do if you are facing charges.
Larceny and theft crimes make up the vast majority of all property-related charges filed in Pennsylvania. According to the FBI’s annual offense survey, there were 190,816 property-related crimes in 2018. That number includes:
The FBI also counted 9,848 robberies (theft from people); however those were considered violent crimes.
With such a high number of larceny charges every year, many Pennsylvania residents may find that their first encounter with law enforcement and the courts comes in the form of a larceny charge (such as retail theft in shoplifting cases). However, the FBI’s category for larceny includes a variety of Pennsylvania theft crimes. Those charges come with vastly different sentences.
Pennsylvania law divides theft crimes two ways: by the type and value of the thing unlawfully taken. Generally speaking, the more valuable the item stolen, the more severe the penalty:
However, there are certain types of property that fall outside the above value-based grading system, and have their own maximum penalties.
If you are charged with shoplifting or taking merchandise from a retail store without paying full price, there is a separate system for penalties, again based on the value of the items taken:
On your third or subsequent conviction, or when the merchandise was worth more than $1,000, retail theft becomes a felony and you could face a maximum penalty of 7 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
If the thing you steal is gasoline from a gas station, you face an additional fine. A first offense adds $100 to $250. A second offense is $250 to $500. On your third or subsequent offense, you will pay an additional $500 and your driver’s license may be suspended for 30 days.
Pennsylvania vehicle theft applies to planes, boats, cars, and any other motor-propelled vehicle. No matter how little the vehicle is worth, theft of a motor-propelled vehicle is a third-degree penalty with a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. This includes stealing the vehicle yourself or receiving stolen property.
If the property stolen is a gun or firearm, or if you are charged with receiving, holding, or disposing of a stolen firearm, you could be charged with a second-degree felony and face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
The penalties described so far assume a standard larceny where you are charged with taking an item by simply taking the item or deceiving or threatening someone into giving it to you. However, in some cases, the danger or severity of the situation, such as using a gun or taking advantage of a position of power (violating a fiduciary duty), can call for higher consequences.
In addition, the Pennsylvania legislature has increased the penalty for thefts that occur during a natural, manmade, or war-caused disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, severe storm, or other state of emergency. In those cases, no matter how little the item stolen is worth, you can be charged with a second-degree felony and face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Even the least serious Pennsylvania theft crime can create serious and lasting consequences that will follow you for years to come. However, in many cases there are defenses to avoid conviction. For example:
In addition, some forms of Pennsylvania theft crimes qualify for an alternative rehabilitation program. If you qualify, you can complete the program’s requirements (often including paying restitution and performing community service) and avoid having a conviction on your record.
At Berman & Associates, our experienced criminal defense attorneys take theft crimes seriously. We will help you understand the charges against you and the penalties that go with them. Then we will build a defense to fight against a conviction that could threaten your criminal history and your future. We welcome you to contact us to speak with us about how we can help with your criminal case.
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