Larceny Defenses

Prosecutors must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. So, if a defendant can cast doubt on the prosecutor's case concerning any of the required elements for larceny, they stand a good chance of acquittal.

Defendants accused of larceny, which in many jurisdictions is the same as theft, have many defenses to counter the charges. 

If you are charged with this crime, learning about larceny defenses, including entrapment, consent, and duress, is best.

Misdemeanors vs. Felonies

Criminal law classifies offenses into two primary categories: misdemeanors and felonies.

Misdemeanors are less serious offenses. Misdemeanors include minor crimes such as petty theft, simple assault, or public intoxication. Misdemeanor convictions often result in less severe consequences, such as

  • Fines
  • Probation
  • Community service
  • Short jail time, usually of less than one year

Felonies encompass more serious crimes like grand theft, burglary, or violence. Felony convictions carry more severe consequences, including:

  • Substantial fines
  • Longer prison sentences
  • Other impacts on an individual's future (such as losing voting rights and restricted access to certain professions)

The key distinction between the two lies in the severity of the crime and the corresponding punishment, with misdemeanors being less severe and felonies more serious in the eyes of the law.

Larceny: The Basics

To recap, larceny is:

  1. The unlawful taking and carrying away of
  2. Someone else's personal property
  3. Without the consent of the owner and with
  4. The intent is to deprive the owner of the property permanently.

If a defendant can show that their actions didn't meet any or all of these elements, then the prosecution has not proved its case (and the defendant will avoid penalties). Focusing on the elements should be a defendant's first defense. Still, other defenses exist even when the defendant admits to taking the property.

Larceny Defenses: Overview

In addition to the major categories of defenses below, some commonly used defenses may or may not help a defendant accused of larceny.

For example, an attempt to return a piece of stolen property, or its equivalent value, to the original owner will not remove responsibility for the original larceny. However, if the defendant intended to return the property when they took it, no larceny occurred (remember that larceny requires intent to deprive the owner of the property permanently). Defendants will have trouble proving this at trial, however. In addition, a defendant who intended to return a piece of stolen property must demonstrate that they had the substantial ability to do so.

Also, stealing from a spouse can't act as a defense to larceny charges if the spouses aren't living together. If the spouses do live together, however, any taking of property would fall under the designation of misappropriation of marital property rather than larceny. You must refer to your state's laws to determine what is and what is not marital property.

Some defendants try to claim that the stolen property was illicit. Thus, no larceny occurred. But the nature of the stolen good has no bearing on the larceny charge. If, for example, a defendant stole a shipment of counterfeit handbags, a larceny has occurred regardless of whether the shipment's contents were illegal.

Lack of Intent

One of the most fundamental defenses in larceny cases is establishing a lack of intent. In many theft crimes, proving that you did not intend to deprive the owner of the property permanently can be a viable defense.

For instance, if you mistakenly took an item — believing it was your own — your criminal defense attorney can argue that you lacked the necessary intent for a theft conviction. Or, if you intentionally took it but had no intention of keeping it, you would lack the required intent to deprive the owner of its use permanently. The details of what happens after the item is taken often shed light on the person's intent.

Reasonable Doubt

In any criminal case, the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A skilled criminal defense attorney can raise doubts about the evidence presented, such as questioning the credibility of witnesses or the accuracy of surveillance footage.

Demonstrating reasonable doubt can be an effective strategy to secure an acquittal. For example, if there is evidence that the borrower attempted to return the item before the police became involved, it could show there was no intent to steal.

Value of the Property

In most states, the severity of theft charges can vary based on the value of the stolen property. Petty theft involves items of lower value, while grand theft typically pertains to more valuable property. Your criminal defense lawyer may argue that the prosecution has misjudged the property's value, potentially leading to reduced charges or penalties.

Shoplifting and Petty Theft

Shoplifting, a form of petty theft, frequently results in a common larceny charge. If law enforcement accuses you of shoplifting, your criminal defense attorney can investigate whether store security or personnel violated your rights, used excessive force, or engaged in entrapment. These actions might lead to the dismissal of charges.


Defendants often claim entrapment when facing larceny charges. Entrapment occurs when someone induces an innocent party to commit a crime that they normally wouldn't have committed. In the case of larceny, someone (often a police officer) will convince another to steal something they wouldn't otherwise have taken. The defendant claiming entrapment must not have had any prior inclination to commit the crime and must do so only on the enticement of the entrapping party.

For example, if police officers set up a car with the keys in the ignition and wait for someone to come up and attempt to steal it, no entrapment has occurred. If, on the other hand, a police officer points out the car to a passerby and encourages them to take the car, the passerby would have a stronger argument in support of an entrapment defense.


In larceny cases, the absence of the owner's consent is a crucial element. Larceny involves taking property without the owner's agreement. Therefore, it doesn't constitute larceny if the owner willingly allows someone to take their property. It might be another offense, like insurance fraud, but not larceny.

However, things can get tricky when a property owner suspects someone is planning to steal their stuff. In an attempt to confirm their suspicions, the owner might set up a situation where the suspected person has the chance to commit larceny.

In this scenario, if the suspected person takes the property, they can still be charged with larceny. This is because the intention to commit the crime comes from them, not the owner's consent. The owner didn't agree to the taking; instead, they tried to catch the potential thief in the act. In simple terms, it's like a trap. While the owner's actions may lead to a larceny, it doesn't absolve the person who took the property of their responsibility.


As with other crimes, defendants can claim that someone else forced them to commit a larceny through threats of force, blackmail, etc. This is known as duress. If a defendant can offer proof for this claim, a jury may find that they did not act voluntarily and should not bear responsibility for the crime.

This may also apply to threats against third parties. Some states expressly prohibit defendants from raising a duress defense when the defendant threatens injury to a third party.

Expungement and Clearing Your Criminal Record

If you have a history of past criminal offenses, it's essential to understand that your criminal defense attorney can investigate the possibility of expungement. This legal process can be incredibly helpful in improving your defense strategy, especially when dealing with theft charges. Typically, expungement is available to remove evidence of an arrest or dismissal. However, some states have a process for asking the court to remove convictions from your record.

Expungement is essentially a way to erase or clear your criminal record, offering several advantages. Expungement removes the convictions or arrests from public view, making it seem like they never happened. This can have a positive impact on your legal situation.

When you're facing theft charges, having a clean record can be especially beneficial. You can use it to show the court that you have taken steps to turn your life around and your commitment to a more positive path. It may also affect the way the prosecution views your case and can lead to a more favorable outcome in your defense.

White Collar Crimes and Embezzlement

In addition to traditional theft offenses, white-collar crimes like embezzlement can result in larceny charges. Imagine crimes that don't involve physical harm or violence but are more about sneaky financial tricks. That's what we call white-collar crimes. They happen in office settings, businesses, or organizations, and they're all about money.

Embezzlement is like a secret inside the job. It occurs when someone you trust with money, like an employee, manager, or even a treasurer, takes that money for themselves instead of using it as they should.

Think of it like this: If you give your friend some money to hold for safekeeping but decide to use it for themselves instead, that's a bit like embezzlement. The key is that the person had permission to handle the money but misused that trust by taking it improperly.

criminal defense attorney experienced in white-collar crimes can provide tailored representation to challenge the prosecution's case.

Combining Charges

In some cases, larceny charges may arise in conjunction with other criminal offenses like domestic violence or DUI. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can help navigate the complexities of these combined charges.

Get Legal Help With Your Larceny Defense

It is essential to seek legal advice from a reputable criminal defense attorney or law office. Establishing a strong attorney-client relationship is crucial to building a solid defense strategy tailored to your circumstances.

In conclusion, facing larceny charges can be daunting. However, with the right criminal defense attorney and a thorough understanding of the possible defenses available, you can increase your chances of a favorable outcome and protect your future from the ramifications of being convicted of theft crimes.

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