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Theft is a charge that can range from what some people call “shoplifting” all the way to allegations that involve stealing money and property worth millions of dollars. Depending on the value of the items allegedly stolen, the crime of theft can be charged as a misdemeanor or a higher-level felony.
How do you defend someone accused of theft? That is a very fact intensive question. One of our clients, who had been to prison for theft convictions in the past, was facing several new felonies related to stealing cell phones and cell phone cards. In that case we made a decision to see if the lead investigator was willing to detail his investigation. We went to the police station and sat down and talked to him, tape-recording the entire conversation. It was a simple way to gain valuable information. As he talked to us, it became obvious that he had made some mistakes and assumptions that could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Fortunately, it was too late to change his answers because they were all recorded. Charges were ultimately dismissed.
In other cases, we will spend pain-staking time watching video over and over, looking for something that can give our client the strategic advantage. One case, for example, involved the felony allegation of stealing tires from the back of a business. However, while watching the video and looking at photos we saw things that turned the case around. In the end watching the video over and over again paid off as the jury found our client not guilty because of things we pointed out that the prosecutor had missed.
There are many ways to defend a theft charge. Often, we are able to point the finger at other potential suspects, for example. The one thing about having 120+ years of experience is that we have a ton of experience from which we can draw in defending cases, including theft. However, that is only part of the equation because even if you have a great game plan, it won’t matter if the prosecutor does not take you serious as a trial threat.
We expect reasonable resolutions from prosecutors for our clients. That could mean that we expect a dismissal. It could mean that we expect an acceptable plea agreement. If we don’t receive an agreeable resolution, we will go to trial. Our Indiana criminal defense lawyers are Board Certified* and built our reputation on the belief that if you fight for your clients all the way to trial when necessary, good things will happen whether the client is charged with theft or any other crime.
The Basics of Theft
Like so many Indiana laws, theft has a commonly understood and simple definition but lengthy and detailed legal connotations for various circumstances. Theft is generally understood to take place when someone intentionally takes control of the property of another individual. This action then deprives that person or business of the value of the property. Property is just a general term for anything of value, such as money, clothing, jewelry, or other tangible objects. Property can also refer to labor, services, and other intangible objects. The value of a piece of property is determined by assessing the fair market value of the piece of property at the time the theft offense was committed. If the fair market value of a piece of property cannot be determined, the value will be the cost to replace the property. Already, the “simple” definition of theft has grown exponentially more complicated when it is broken down into its parts.
Theft is often viewed as happening without the owner’s consent. Someone happens to be at a friend’s house and takes a pair of earrings without asking for permission from the owner. This is many people’s standard idea of what constitutes theft. However, theft can also happen when control of the property changes hands in a manner that is different than what the owner agreed to. Theft can also take place when an individual creates a false impression or makes false promises, or even threatens to damage the property unless it is handed over to them. Theft may also take place if an individual does not disclose a legal challenge or hurdle that could impact the ability to use the property as intended.
When it comes to the law, there is no “basic” theft. There are varied circumstances and broad conditions that can make a theft charge much more complex than it first appears. That is why, no matter the situation, it is important to get in touch with an experienced attorney the minute you find out that you are facing any type of theft charge. At The Criminal Defense Team, we have decades of experience to draw from to help you take on this legal challenge. We aim to thoroughly understand the circumstances of your case and find the legal solutions that offer you the most positive outcome for your case.
Types of Theft
The crime of theft is broad. There are different levels of theft depending on the circumstances of the situation there are also different criminal categories of theft as well. While shoplifting may be one of the most common forms of theft, the state of Indiana does not have a specific shoplifting statute on the books. Shoplifting is simply theft, and the resulting penalty depends on the value of the goods taken. However, other types of theft do have their own statutes defining the crime and outlining potential penalties for conviction. This is a breakdown of some of the most common theft and theft-related charges in Indiana:
Theft- Class A Misdemeanor
- Knowingly taking possession of another person’s property when the value of said property is less than $750.00
Theft- Level 6 Felony
- Knowingly taking possession of another person’s property when the value of that property is over $750.00 and less than $50,000. Theft is also considered a felony offense if the property taken includes a firearm, an automobile, components, or parts of a motor vehicle, or if the individual has a prior theft conviction on their record. The charge can be raised to a Level 5 felony if the value of the property is over the amount of $50,000, the theft relates to transportation safety, relates to public safety, or is taken from a hospital or health care facility.
Conversion– Class A Misdemeanor
- Borrowing property with the intent to return it without the owner’s permission is a form of theft under Indiana law. It is legally defined as an individual knowingly exerting unauthorized control over another’s property.
Conversion– Level 6 Felony
- Conversion can be a felony offense if an individual exerts unauthorized possession of a car or other motorized vehicle with the intention of using that vehicle to assist in the commission of a crime. Conversion can also be a felony offense if an individual acquires the property by lease, the individual signs paperwork declaring that the property will be returned on a specific day and time, and it is not handed back to the owner in a timely manner. The offense can be a Level 5 felony if the individual takes unauthorized control of a vehicle and it is actually used to assist in the commission of a crime.
Dealing in Altered Property– Class A Misdemeanor
- While not a classic example of theft, dealing in stolen goods is considered a crime. Any person who recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally buys or sells property that is stolen may be charged with dealing in altered property. If the manufacturer’s serial number has been removed, altered, or defaced, this is also considered dealing in altered property. The offense can be a Level 6 felony if the individual has a prior conviction for theft or dealing in altered property or if the fair market value of the property is at least $1,000.
Fuel Theft- Class A Misdemeanor
- There is a separate Indiana statute that specifically targets fuel theft, or what is also sometimes referred to as a “pump and run.” An individual that is convicted of failing to pay for fuel can have their driving privileges suspended in addition to other penalties. As with other theft cases, an offense can rise to a Level 6 felony depending on the dollar amount of fuel that was stolen.
Penalties for Theft
In the state of Indiana, theft is not a minor crime. Depending on the circumstances of the case, there can be serious prison time imposed on those convicted of certain theft offenses. Unfortunately, even for minor infractions, the penalties can weigh heavily on a convicted individual. Those with multiple convictions, even for relatively minor offenses, will see a sharp increase in the penalties they may have to face. Penalties can include a combination of jail time, fines, and probation, and in some cases, an individual may also face time in prison. These are the penalties that may await an individual convicted of a theft crime:
Class A Misdemeanor
- Up to 1 year in jail
- Fines up to $5,000
Level 6 Felony
- 6 months to 2 ½ years in prison
- Fines up to $10,000
Level 5 Felony
- 1 to 6 years in prison
- Fines up to $10,000
The mistake many people make is thinking that a theft charge is not worth defending so they’ll pay a fine and move on. That isn’t always the case and charges can be pursued relentlessly. This isn’t a scare tactic; it’s a hard fact that many people don’t understand until it is too late, and they are facing very serious and very real consequences. Consulting with an attorney from day one is the best way to ensure that your legal rights are being protected and that you have someone on your side with the experience to craft a defense strategy suited to the specifics of your case.
Civil Penalties for Theft
Individuals understand that they may be liable for criminal penalties when convicted of theft. However, in Indiana, an individual may also be at risk of civil penalties as well. While there is no specific statute for shoplifting, shoplifting is considered theft. Under Indiana law, a retailer who suffers losses due to shoplifting can bring a civil lawsuit against the accused individual in order to recoup those losses. A retail victim may be able to seek triple the cost of the losses, and in addition, if they prove their case and win in court, they can also ask that the offender pay the court costs of filing the suit, their attorney’s fees, and travel costs.
Now, in addition to paying fines, possible jail or prison time, and probation, an individual may also have to contend with the serious financial consequences that come with a charge of theft. It is easy to see how what may have been viewed as a minor theft charge can snowball into a major life-changing event that can impact your reputation and financial stability.
A seasoned attorney with The Criminal Defense Team can thoroughly review your situation and prepare you for what to expect when it comes to your individual situation. We can explain your legal options, craft a solid defense strategy, and help you achieve the best possible result for your circumstances. We understand that the legal process can seem overwhelming. That’s why we support you and walk you through every step in the process. You deserve a sound defense and someone willing to take decisive action in your favor. That is what The Criminal Defense Team has to offer.
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We defend clients in Hamilton County, Marion County, Johnson County, Hancock County, Shelby County, Boone County, Hendricks County and counties throughout Indiana. We can help you as well.