Being arrested and found guilty of theft in Pennsylvania has serious consequences. Theft charges include jail time, fines, and a criminal record. In this blog post, we will discuss the different types of theft charges and their corresponding penalties for a theft conviction in Pittsburgh, as well as common defenses to theft charges.
Understanding Theft in Pennsylvania
Theft is defined as unlawfully taking someone else’s property without their consent. A theft occurs when someone illegally takes an item that does not belong to them, keeps something that was misplaced by the real owner, or keeps the property of another that was delivered by mistake. Theft can also occur when you rent goods without returning them or you destroy the rented property or goods. Using services without paying for them is also considered theft in Pennsylvania.
Types of Theft Charges
There are several types of theft charges dependent on the circumstances of the crime. Some common types of theft charges include:
- Retail Theft
- Movable Theft: Exercising control or illegally taking property such as jewelry for example.
- Immovable Theft: Exercising control or transferring over property, such as a house, with the intent to benefit yourself or another party.
- Theft by Deception: Intentionally creating a false impression, failing to correct a false impression, or withholding information in order to obtain or keep someone else’s property. This could mean lying about law, the value of an item, or an intention.
- Theft of Services: Unlawfully using services without paying for them.
- Passing Bad Checks: Issuing bad checks intentionally is punishable by law.
- Forgery: Intentionally stealing money or gaining financially by forging a signature or printing false documents.
- Receiving Stolen Property: Intentionally accepting, retaining, selling, transferring, or disposing of known stolen property. Selling stolen property is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
- Burglary: Entering a building with the intent to commit a crime. You could be charged with burglary if you intend to steal something or intend to commit any kind of crime, even if you don’t end up stealing anything and don’t commit any crime. Burglary is a felony.
- Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle: “Joyriding” without consent of the owner. Theft of a motor vehicle is a felony.
- Robbery: If a person harms or threatens to harm someone in the course of illegally taking their property, they could be charged with robbery, which is a felony.
Penalties for a Theft Conviction in Pennsylvania
Depending on the value of the stolen item, theft could either be a felony or a misdemeanor on your criminal record. If you are charged with stealing a gun or weapon, convicted of theft during a natural disaster (earthquake, flood, etc.), or committed another crime while committing theft, you will face additional penalties.
According to the Pennsylvania Criminal Code, 3903, when the amount of the item stolen is:
- Less than $50: a third-degree misdemeanor, up to one year in prison and a $2,000 fine;
- $50-$200: a second-degree misdemeanor, up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine;
- $200-$2,000: a first-degree misdemeanor, up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine;
- Over $2,000: a third-degree felony, up to seven years in prison, and a $15,000 fine.
If the item stolen is a motor vehicle or a gun, it is considered a third-degree felony. If this is your third offense you face a third-degree felony.
Penalties for Shoplifting/Retail Theft
Shoplifting, which is considered “retail theft”, has different penalties than being charged with “theft” in Pennsylvania. Penalties for shoplifting fall under the following grading: When the amount of the item stolen is:
- Less than $150 AND it is a first offense: A summary offense, a $300 fine and up to 90 days in jail;
- Over $150 OR a second offense under $150: a first-degree misdemeanor, up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine;
- Over $2,000: a third-degree felony, up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
How Long Does A Theft Conviction Stay On My Record?
It’s important to note that a theft conviction remains on your record forever. The only way you can remove it is by filing a petition for expungement. This means that when you apply for employment, complete an application, to rent an apartment or try to go to school, a background check will find the theft conviction.
When you apply for employment, complete an application to rent an apartment, or try to go to school, a background check will find the theft conviction.
If you have already been convicted of theft in Pennsylvania and have struggled to gain employment or a place to live, it is in your best interest to consult with a criminal defense attorney about expunging your record. Even if the record is expunged, a background check will still show a conviction and expungement, which means you will need to explain yourself in an interview.
Common Defenses to Theft Charges in Pennsylvania
An experienced theft lawyer in Pittsburgh from SMT Legal will be able to build a defense against the theft charges using one or more of the following common defenses:
- Claim of ownership
- A claim of right to the property
- Return of the property in question to the rightful owner
There is no guarantee that any of the above defenses will work in your situation, which is why it is important to seek the legal counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney when faced with a theft charge. If you are facing a theft charge in Pennsylvania, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.
We work to significantly increase your chances of having your charges reduced or withdrawn by building a strong defense strategy. We will make sure we get answers to all questions to aid in proving your innocence as well as search for any holes in the prosecution’s case. If the police did not follow proper procedures during your arrest, all evidence could be thrown out and your entire case could be dismissed. The experienced criminal defense team at SMT Legal understands the seriousness of a theft charge. We know that you could face more than a handful of years in prison and tens of thousands of dollars in fines if convicted. Don’t take a chance on getting lucky in court by representing yourself.