What are Theft Charges in New York?

Theft crimes can run the gamut from very serious crimes to minor misdemeanors. A person can be charged for something like shoplifting, embezzling, or outright stealing property from someone else. These crimes all carry the potential for fines or incarceration, and the severity of the penalty often increases with the value of the item or money stolen. One of the first steps after someone has been charged with a theft crime is understanding what the crime means and what consequences may come from the charge.

It is important to know that while some states may still have specific statutes for crimes like embezzlement or shoplifting, New York places these crimes under the umbrella term of larceny. So, while someone may have committed an act of embezzlement, the charge itself will be larceny.

Related Charges

NY PENAL § 155.25: The Charge of Petit Larceny

Theft of Property


NY PENAL § 155.30: Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree

The Fourth Tier of Grand Larceny in New York


NY PENAL § 155.35: Grand Larceny in the Third Degree

The Third Tier of Grand Larceny in New York


NY PENAL § 155.40: Grand Larceny in the Second Degree

The Second Tier of Grand Larceny


NY PENAL § 155.42: The Charge of Grand Larceny in the First Degree

First Degree Grand Larceny is the theft of property worth more than $1 million


NY PENAL § 165.40: Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree

Knowingly Possessing Stolen Property in New York


What are Larceny Crimes?

Petit Larceny

This is the crime most often associated with shoplifting, but it is not necessarily limited to shoplifting, nor does shoplifting always qualify as petit larceny. Almost certainly, if someone walks out of a store with goods from the store, he or she will be charged with petit larceny, and possibly other, more serious theft charges. A person can be charged with petit larceny, even if he or she does not leave with the stolen items. Mere possession of a stolen item can be enough to justify this misdemeanor charge. This does not mean that picking up an item and putting it into a basket is enough to justify such a charge, but concealing the item by placing it in a pocket could.

The penalties for petit larceny typically increase with the amount stolen and/or the number of prior acts. The penalty may be simply community service or a fine, but where the value of the item stolen is greater or the defendant has a prior record, there is a greater possibility of increased fine or even jail time. If the value of the item stolen is more than $1,000.00, then this otherwise misdemeanor offense could become a felony.

Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree

A person may be charged with grand larceny in the fourth degree where the property stolen is valued at more than $1,000.00, but it is not limited to a specific value. Certain other items, like secret scientific material, a credit card, or a public record, can qualify for a fourth degree grand larceny charge. This may apply whether the property is taken from another person or is only given as the result of extortion. Other items like religious items over the value of $100.00 used in religious services and certain chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine qualify for class E felony.

A charge of fourth degree grand larceny has no mandatory minimum sentence for a first time offender, but there is a potential for up to four years in prison, whether the person is a first time or repeat offender.

Grand Larceny in the Third Degree

The theft of certain property may qualify for third degree grand larceny, if the stolen item(s) are more than $3,000.00 in value. This statute also applies if the property is related to an ATM, either the ATM contents or the ATM itself. This class D felony could lead to two to seven years in jail for a first time offender. For a repeat offender, the sentence carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two to four years and could mean as many as seven years in prison.

Grand Larceny in the Second Degree

Though this may not be the most serious grand larceny crime in New York, second degree grand larceny can have severe consequences. A person may be charged with grand larceny where the property stolen is valued at more than $50,000.00 or up to $1,000,000.00. For even a first time offender, second degree grand larceny can end in a prison sentence of five to fifteen years. For repeat offenders, there is a mandatory minimum of anywhere between three to six years and a possible maximum sentence of seven-and-a-half years to fifteen years in prison for this class C felony.

Grand Larceny in the First Degree

The most serious of the larceny and theft crimes in New York, a charge of first degree grand larceny can potentially result in a quarter of a century in prison. This class B felony applies where the value of the stolen property is more than $1,000,000.00. Unlike the other charges, which do not have a mandatory minimum sentence for first time offenders, first degree grand larceny requires at least one to three years behind bars and potentially as many as 25 years in prison.

What Constitutes Theft or Larceny?

There are a number of acts that do not have a separate subsection under the theft or felony statutes. Instead, these acts are, themselves, considered larceny. Though “theft” and “larceny” may evoke certain images of bank heists or simply stealing a purse from a woman on the street, these may also include such acts as embezzlement, mortgage fraud, criminal tax fraud, and health care fraud.

What is Criminal Possession of Stolen Property?

If someone knowingly possess stolen property and that person is either preventing the owner from retrieving the property, a charge of criminal possession of stolen property could follow. Possession may be something as simple as seconds, hours, days or even years after the theft, and the person charged with possession does not have to have participated in the actual theft.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree

This is the least severe of the stolen property offenses and is a class A misdemeanor. The crime contains the possible penalty of up to on year in jail. To be charged with this crime requires only to possess property the person knows is stolen and intentionally keeping it from the owner or benefiting from the possession. No participation in the theft is required. These charges are most often associated with shoplifting and other minor theft crimes.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree

This possession charge is a class E felony that can lead to one to four years in prison, as well as fines or other charges. Though the circumstances are the same as with the fifth degree of this charge, the value of the property is more than $1,000.00 but no more than $3,000.00.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree

Like the other criminal possession charges, the facts are the same, but the value of the property is the key difference; if the property is valued at more than $3,000.00 but no more than $50,000.00, then this charge will apply. This class D felony can lead to two years to as many as seven years in prison, depending on the circumstances of the crime, and whether the person charged has any prior arrests.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Second Degree

When the value of the property exceeds $50,000.00, a person may be charged with second degree criminal possession of stolen property. This class C felony can result in up to fifteen years in state prison.

Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the First Degree

A person may be charged with first degree criminal possession where the property is in excess of $1 million. This is a class B felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of at least one year if the person has no prior charges or three years if the person has prior charges. This charge also carries with it a possible maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. These charges are a result of stealing property that is valued at more than $1,000,000.00.

Are there Other Theft Crimes?

There are a number of other charges that typically fall under the broader category of theft. These include the unauthorized use of a vehicle, misapplication of property, auto stripping’ theft of services’ unauthorized sale of transportation services; unlawful use of credit card, debit card, or public benefit card; and even fortune telling.

What is Attempt?

Like many crimes, there is also the possibility of a charge of attempted grand larceny, even if the crime is never actually committed. Attempt typically applies where a significant step toward the crime of larceny has been taken. For instance, if a person is intending to use fake checks to steal from another person’s bank account and makes the checks but never uses them, the State would argue a significant step has been taken.

What do Some of the Terms Mean?

To better understand a theft charge, it is helpful to understand the terms as New York law interprets them. It can give a better understanding of the crime to the person who has been charged and give them the opportunity to prepare a defense.

Repeat Offenders

A repeated offender is called a predicate felon in New York law. These individuals have been charged with a felony in the last ten years, and as a result can be subject to mandatory minimum prison sentences under the law, regardless of any mitigating evidence. Prior offenses, even those that are not felonies, can make a judge issue harsher rulings.

Obtaining Property and Appropriating

Merely obtaining property is to transfer the property of one person to another, whether it is the person who commits the act of theft or to a third party. To appropriate property is to exercise control over property for an extended period that grants the person appropriating a major part of the economic value of the property or to dispose of the property not on behalf of the owner.

Depriving Another of Property

A person may deprive another of property by withholding it or destroying it. The most important part of the definition of depriving another of that person’s property is the idea that the person who has been stolen is prevented from or cannot reclaim the property appropriating.

Value of Stolen Property

In determining the value of a piece of stolen property, the State will typically use the market value of that property as the basis for that calculation. This can include the value of a similar item, like the going value for a particular car, the value of a similar piece of jewelry, or the going rate for a ticket to a similar event. If the market value of an item is unknown and cannot be determined by market value, the Court will normally determine value based upon the cost to replace the stolen property.

What are the Possible Consequences?

Not only is prison time a real possibility with New York’s various theft crimes, but being charged with stealing from another can have serious consequences. Theft can often be a dealbreaker if someone finds such a charge in your background. Most companies conduct a criminal background search on their employees, whether it is just prior to hiring or immediately following. If an employer learns that a current or potential employee may have a criminal history of theft, it can make the employer less likely to trust the employee with financial matters.

It is also important that those charged with a theft crime take it seriously the first time around, as some crimes have mandatory minimum sentences, requiring several years in prison, at least. Even where a charge does not have a required minimum sentence, a prior charge or conviction can make a judge less willing to issue a shorter prison sentence or community service in lieu of a criminal conviction.

That is why it is so important to hire an attorney immediately, so that an experienced attorney can work to mount a strong defense against the State’s case. Attorneys can also help to ensure that police do not violate someone’s rights by conducting improper searches or warrants. They can act as guides through the often confusing legal world and guide the person charged.

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