To not steal may be a commandment embedded in the social fabric, but not all stealing is considered equal in the eyes of the law. There are different levels to stealing, and they are punished as such. The simplest type of theft is known as petty theft, or more formally, larceny. Petty theft is the taking of someone’s property without that person’s consent. It is considered larceny if it can be determined that the person took the object permanently—which is considered a crime against the right of possession. When someone steals a wallet left on a restaurant table, or takes an unlocked bike, it is considered petty theft or larceny. Shoplifting from stores is also considered larceny or petty theft. Petty theft can be violent, however—a person may take the object by force or fraud. Fraud, however, is considered a different crime, even if it involves money, such as the crime of embezzlement or forgery.
While petty theft and larceny are a serious issue, the rate of incident appears to be decreasing in recent years. There were over 6 million recorded incidents of petty crime in 2010, though that number was a 2.4 percent decline compared to the year before and a 6.6 percent decline from the 2006 estimate. Stealing from cars or motor vehicles was the most common type of one specific place from which petty theft occurred, with shoplifting ranking close behind. Petty theft from a building (including a home or a place of business) was significant, with pocket-picking, theft from coin-operated machines, purse-snatching, and the theft of vehicle accessories and bikes ranking as well.
While the seemingly disparate punishment for petty crime often makes the news, the average loss experienced by petty theft crime is nearly $1,000 per incident—a significant amount. And that adds up—in 2010 alone, the national total value of items stolen in incidents of petty theft averages over $6 billion.
If you or someone you know has been charged with petty theft, the most important step is to seek legal counsel. Do not go through it alone. Contact an experienced San Jose criminal defense attorney today.