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The fifty states all define crimes slightly differently, so there is not a single blanket answer for when a theft graduates from a misdemeanor to a felony. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony is the severity of the crime involved, or in the case of a theft, the value of what was stolen.
But there is more to it. Three factors impact a theft charge: what was stolen, how much was stolen, and the alleged thief's prior record.
Perhaps you have heard of the expression petit theft (sometimes also called petty theft). Petit means small in French and petit thefts are small crimes, or misdemeanors. Some states limit petit theft to up to $500 or $1,000, charging a defendant with a felony if the item stolen is worth more than the statutory amount.
But some states may charge differently depending on the type of item stolen, perhaps distinguishing between livestock and labor or services. Depending on the state there may also be a separate crime for a particular type of theft. Theft applies to almost anything stolen, including goods, money, livestock, or the value of labor and services.
Depending on the state, the theft will either fall under the small or large category, petit or grand. But some types of theft get separate categories all their own. Obviously, stealing a car is a big deal. So much so that grand theft auto is its own, separate, felony charge. Grand means big in French and grand theft is simply a big steal.
Again it depends on the state, but a prosecutor can generally charge someone more severely when they have prior convictions for the same type of crime. Theft is a crime of moral turpitude, legally speaking, and it does tend to be punished more severely the more the defendant is accused.
Depending on how the state statute is written, it is possible to steal something of minimal value -- like a candy bar -- and still trigger a felony conviction resulting in an extensive prison sentence. At that point, the charge is not based on what was stolen or what it was worth but on the defendant's own record in combination with the theft.
It is also important to note that theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude for immigration purposes and even a conviction for the most minimal theft can impact an application.
If you or someone you know has been charged with theft or anything else, do not delay. Speak to a criminal defense attorney right away. Criminal convictions can have serious consequences in all areas of a person's life. Get help defending yourself.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.