What Is the Legal Difference Between Larceny and Theft

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Larceny and theft mean the same thing in many instances. Any differences between the two terms is often decided on a state-by-state basis.

Explanation of Larceny Larceny is a term only used in states that still legally define larceny as different from theft. Larceny is “the unlawful taking, carrying, leading or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another,” notes the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Larceny occurs when an individual takes property from another individual without his or her consent with the intent to deprive that individual of the property. Larceny charges are also possible if someone damages an individual’s property to the point that the property is no longer usable by the owner, even if the property is not removed from the individual’s home, vehicle or land. This type of larceny may have additional criminal charges added onto the act of destroying the property.

There are two types of larceny charges: grand larceny and petty larceny. The value of the stolen goods determines a grand or petty larceny charge. Often, smaller value items are classified as petty larceny and larger value items are classified as grand larceny. The value of the stolen goods also determines if the larceny is filed as a misdemeanor or felony. In some cases, an individual is charged with multiple larcenies depending on how much is stolen and how often the individual stole items from the same person.

Explanation of Theft Theft is almost identical to larceny as it’s the taking of someone’s property without his or her permission and with the intent to deprive that person of their property. Theft is more commonly used now than larceny but it carries the same type of charges. Grand theft is the stealing of high-value items and petty theft is stealing lower value items. “Market value is the means by which the value of most goods, wares, and merchandise will be established,” notes the U.S. Department of Justice.” Sometimes, theft is referred to as first-degree, second-degree or third-degree theft. The value of the items stolen determines if these charges are treated as a felony or a misdemeanor. A theft is considered a robbery if force or fear is used to possess the stolen goods. In both larceny and theft, there is no force or fear used to possess the stolen goods.

Defenses for Theft There are some legal defenses for both larceny and theft charges. One defense is ownership of the property. It’s neither larceny nor theft if the person taking the goods owns the property. For example, retrieving borrowed goods from a friend or neighbor is not theft if the property belongs to the person doing the retrieving. Another defense is the intent to return the property. If an individual can prove he or she intended to return the property and did not intend to deprive the person of the property indefinitely, there may not be any charges filed.

Receiving Stolen Property People who purchase or freely accept stolen property can be charged with the crime of receiving stolen property. These charges are different than theft or larceny as the person isn’t the one initiating the theft but is accepting items stolen from another. In these cases, the person would have to prove he or she was ignorant of the fact that the items were stolen.