In the United States, larceny is a common law crime involving theft. Under the common law, larceny is the trespassory taking (caption) and carrying away (asportation, removal) of the tangible personal property of another with the intent to deprive him or her of it permanently. In English law, the common law offense was codified into the Larceny Act 1916. In turn, the terminology and substance was converted into theft by the Theft Act 1968.
The control must be complete. In a famous case the defendant removed an overcoat from a department store mannequin and began to walk away with it. The overcoat was secured to the mannequin by a chain; a fact the defendant first discovered when the chain drew taut. These actions were held not to be larceny because defendant never had complete control over the disposition and use of the coat.
The taking may be only momentary. In another famous case, the defendant snatched an earring from the victim which immediately became entangled in the victim’s hair. The court held that the defendant's control over the property, although momentary, was sufficient to constitute a taking.
The equivalent term "deprive" is also sometimes used:
A. This limitation means: a. You can’t steal real property - land(by steal, commit common law larceny) b. You can’t steal items attached to or forming part of land i. Buildings ii. Trees iii. Shrubs iv. Growing crops v. Minerals c. You can’t steal “ things of or from the environment” i. Water from the ocean ii. Air iii. Sand from a public beach iv. Seashells from the seashore d. You can’t steal love or affection. e. You can’t steal information f. You can’t steal a person’s identity. g. You can’t steal services. h. You can’t steal labor. i. You can’t steal intangible personal property (incorporeal rights) i. contract rights ii. choses in action a. stock certificates b. bonds c. checks j. You can’t steal intellectual property i. ideas ii. words iii. thoughts iv. images and sounds k. You can’t steal wills, codicils or other testamentary documents. l. You can’t steal wild animals. n. You can’t steal human corpses and body parts. o. You can’t steal things that have no economic value.
Note: All states have enacted statutes to expand the coverage of larceny to include the items mentioned above. For example, North Carolina has statutes that make it a crime to steal choses in action, growing crops and so on.
The restriction of the scope of larceny to personal property is not merely a matter of academic interest. It can have serious real world consequences. For example, a person "steals" your central air conditioning unit by cutting the connections to the house, removing the unit from its concrete pad and hauling the disconnected unit away in a truck. This certainly sounds like larceny. However in most jurisdictions a central air conditioning unit would be considered a fixture; part of the realty. Severance of a fixture from the realty would convert the fixture from real to personal property. However, the common law had a rule that said if the severance and carrying away of a fixture was one continuous act there was no larceny. Thus in the example the defendant would not be guilty of common law larceny merely damage to real property. Compounding this affront to common sense is the fact that the offender could not be charged with possession of stolen property because the property had not been stolen. Most jurisdictions have filled this gap in common law larceny; although there are a few that have not.
This limitation in the scope of larceny has been eliminated by statute in most jurisdictions.
The "owner" must be "another person" than the defendant "who has a right to possession thereof superior to that of the taker, obtainer, or withholder.
Under NY law, written instruments, utility services, and items of unascertainable value have special rules, and for grand larceny in the fourth degree, a motor vehicle must have value of $100 or greater. Otherwise, value is defined generally as:
In most of the United States the common law definitions of certain crimes have been modified. New York law retains the common law elements. Quite often the general crime of theft has replaced larceny, and most related common law and statutory crimes such as embezzlement, false pretenses, robbery, and receipt of stolen property.
The problem with the ruling in Pear’s is that it requires the prosecution to determine the defendant’s state of mind at the time she was given actual possession of the property. What a person is thinking is not the subject of direct evidence. One must resort to indirect, circumstantial evidence to determine the defendant’s intent. Unfortunately, the circumstantial evidence is often ambiguous. For example, a young man appears at a used car lot and says he is interested in buying a particular car. He tells the salesperson that his invalid father will be paying for it and asks if he can drive the car to his home to show it to his father. The salesperson agrees, gives the young man the keys, slaps on a dealer’s tag and writes a permit that allows the young man to have the car for three hours. The young man does not return after three hours; in fact, he does not return at all. The salesperson finds out that the young man did not take the car to his father’s home and that his father knows nothing about his son’s interest in buying a car. A few weeks later the car and is discovered abandoned on the side of U.S. 1 in Florida. The problem is that the prosecutor must determine whether to charge the defendant with larceny, false pretense or embezzlement. He can rule out false pretense immediately because the salesperson intended to transfer possession of the car not title. The choice between larceny and embezzlement is more difficult because under Pear’s the choice depends on whether the defendant obtained possession by deceit – if so the crime is larceny (by trick); if not, the crime is embezzlement. Has the defendant deceived the dealer? It is possible that the defendant made up the entire story because he needed a car to get out of town. In that case the defendant would be guilty of larceny (by trick). However, there are many other possibilities to consider. It is possible that the defendant sincerely believed that he father would pay for the car and that his father would have paid for the car if he had known of his son’s plans. It is also possible that his decision not to return the car is innocent – he could have been carjacked and forced to drive the carjacker to Florida. It is also possible that his statement to the salesperson was true but young man loved the car so much he was determined to have it regardless of whether his father was willing to pay for it and he drove the car to Florida. In that case, the defendant is guilty of embezzlement not larceny because he did not deceive the salesperson to gain possession of the car. His decision to convert the car to his own use occurred after he had gained lawful possession of the car.
Why didn’t the court use the legal fiction of vitiated consent to include transactions in which the thief uses deceit to acquire both title and possession? According to Perkins, Pear’s case “made its appearance rather late in the common law of England.” “Before the law had been well-settled ‘for generations’ that obtaining title by cheating was not larceny.” In fact, a false pretense statute had been passed by Parliament thirty years before the Pear's decision. However, courts had interpreted the statute to require the use of a false token to perpetrate the deceit - mere words were insufficient. Thus to expand the scope of larceny to include the obtaining or title by deceit the courts would have had to ignore “generations” of precedent to the contrary. The idea of using deceit to accomplish larceny was a new innovation; “there was no precedent to the contrary.”
According to the general statutes, some states (such as North Carolina) have no formal Charge of Grand Larceny. There is, however Felonious Larceny, which is defined the same as Grand Larceny.
The classification of larceny as grand or petit larceny originated in an English statute passed in 1275. Both were felonies. However, the punishment for grand larceny was death while the punishment for petit larceny was forfeiture of property to the crown and whipping. The classification was based on the value of the property taken. The offense was grand larceny if the value of the property taken was greater than twelve pence, approximately the value of a sheep in the thirteenth century.
Most jurisdictions have discarded the grand/petit terminology and use value to classify larcenies as felonies or misdemeanors. "Value" means the fair market value of the property at the time and place taken. Most jurisdictions also make certain larcenies felonies regardless of the value of the property taken. For example, North Carolina General Statutes Section 14 - 72 (b)(1) makes the crime of larceny a felony "without regard to value" if the larceny is (1) from the person (2) committed pursuant to certain types of breaking or enterings (3) of any explosive or incendiary device or (4) of any firearm. The modern spelling is petty larceny for the misdemeanor level.