Theft ranges from shoplifting to robbery. The difference, one is a felony and the other a misdemeanor. Here is what determines a felony theft
Felony vs. misdemeanor, what makes an alleged theft a higher crime;
Thefts Maryland lists as felonious, and the penalties for them; And
Protect your future, what you can do to defend yourself against theft allegations
What Makes Theft A Felony?
We all know the basic definition of theft, taking property that does not belong to you without permission. So, taking someone’s lunch out of the work fridge is technically theft.
Now, someone’s lunch being taken will not land anyone in jail, but if you “dined and dashed” at a restaurant, you are shoplifting and would face criminal consequences. Would those consequences fall under a misdemeanor or felony?
It depends. Maryland separates misdemeanor and felony theft by the value of what has been taken. Misdemeanor theft charges stem from incidents where something valued at less than $1,500 is stolen. Therefore, anything valued at north of $1,500 becomes a felony theft in Maryland.
Cash, electronics, vehicles, or jewelry all have different values when it comes to thefts. The more “expensive” the item is perceived, the bleaker the charge is going to be. For example, someone could steal a watch and only face a misdemeanor because it is not a brand perceived to be valuable, but a Rolex, and that charge is going up to a felony.
Sentimental value does not account for the actual cost of the taken item. Therefore, although a victim may hold a high value on the item, the courts do not.
Again, there are levels of difference in felony theft charges, depending on the total value of what is alleged stolen.
Three Felony Thefts Charged in Maryland and Their Punishments
Up to 5 years in prison and/or up-to $10,000 fine. Return property taken or pay restitution of the value of the property.
Felony Theft between $25,000 and $100,000
Up to 10 years in prison and/or up-to a $15,000 fine. Return property taken or pay restitution of the value of the property.
Felony Theft more than $100,000
Up to 20 years in prison and/or up-to a $25,000 fine. Return property taken or pay restitution of the value of the property.
A monetary amount is assigned for value in theft cases. Appraisals of objects like electronics or jewelry by detectives and investigators determine which felony charge the theft lands under.
The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony theft charge is one cent. So items valued at $1,499.99 are misdemeanors. Go a penny more in value, and now you are talking serious time from a felony charge.
Allegations of felony theft require swift action and diligent protection from a criminal defense attorney. Like they say, “A good lawyer knows the law, but a great lawyer knows the judge.”
Defending Against Theft Allegations
Having a plan to defend against accusations gives those accused a way to handle the situation. For example, an attorney can build arguments, gather facts, get witness statements, and examine evidence to defend theft allegations.
Different scenarios call for distinctive defenses. Here are a few defenses an attorney may use to fight theft charges:
A claim of right or ownership – A straightforward defense where the accused, in good faith, took property they believed was theirs. Evidence proving the claim is necessary; no one can say, “I thought it was mine,” and expect to walk out of court, no questions asked.
Mistake of fact – This defense hinges on the facts of the matter at hand. For instance, say you were at a coffee shop using a laptop, and someone else at the shop also has the same laptop, and you mistakenly grabbed their computer when you left. The crime element is negated because the person honestly thought they were taking their property and not “stealing” it.
Consent – This is another straightforward defense. The person accused of theft believes they had the permission of the owner to take the property. Sometimes people lend us things and forget they did, and then they think the item was stolen when it was borrowed.
Mistaken Identity – The accused may look like someone who committed a theft. Just because a person shares similar features and appearance with another does not make them a criminal. Having an alibi is crucial to the defense, proving you are not the person identified.
Lack of probable cause – Law enforcement has to have probable cause that a crime was committed to make an arrest. If evidence is insufficient to support that, then an attorney can get the charges dismissed or dropped.
Violation of Constitutional rights – Police must inform defendants of their Miranda Rights once questioned. If those rights are not given, then the testimony and potential evidence are inadmissible in court. Also, if law enforcement searched without a warrant, then anything obtained cannot be used in court. Without evidence, prosecutors cannot try the case.
Lack of intent or knowledge – A person accused of theft must “intend” to deprive another of their property or have knowledge that what they are doing is illegal. A person accidentally leaving the property at another’s residence is an example of a lack of intent or knowledge. The person did not intend to take the property because it was left in their possession and had no knowledge the property got left behind.
Going it alone and defending yourself can be done, but not highly recommended. There are so many legal factors the ordinary citizen is uninformed about, making self-defense difficult. Hiring a criminal defense attorney skilled in handling theft cases increases the chance the accused stays free. Our defense attorneys know the Maryland legal system and how to protect your rights.
Contact JC Law today for a free initial consultation to find out how we can help you during this difficult time. Although accusations of a crime can hinder life, our criminal defense attorneys are here to help you move on with life.