What types of actions rise to the level of criminal theft?

There are many different actions that might constitute a theft punishable by criminal laws.  Generally, theft is stealing the property of another.

A person commits theft when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or to a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains, or withholds such property from the owner.

Theft includes the wrongful taking, obtaining, or withholding of another’s property, with the intent to permanently deprive it from the owner, committed if a person:


  1. By deception obtains or exerts control over property of the owner.
  2. By conduct defined or known as larceny; common law larceny by trick; embezzlement; extortion; obtaining property, money or labor under false pretenses; or receiving stolen goods.


A theft also may be committed through the acquiring of lost property.  A person acquires lost property when he exercises control over property of another which he knows to have been lost or mislaid, or to have been delivered (a) under a mistake as to the identity of the recipient or (b) the nature or amount of the property, without taking reasonable measures to return such property to the owner.  A person also can be charged with committing theft of lost or mislaid property when he:


  1. Knows or learns the identity of the owner or knows, or is aware of, or learns of a reasonable method of identifying the owner; and
  2. Fails to take reasonable measures to restore the property to the owner; and
  3. Intends to deprive the owner permanently of the use or benefit of the property.


Obtaining property by false promise is another action that can lead to a theft charge.  A person obtains property by false promise when, pursuant to a scheme to defraud, he obtains property of another by means of a representation, express or implied, that he or a third person will in the future engage in particular conduct, when he (a) does not intend to engage in such conduct or (b) does not believe that the third person intends to engage in such conduct.  However, the prosecution may not establish the defendant’s intention or belief that the promise would not be performed from just the fact that the promise was not performed.  Such a finding may be based only upon evidence establishing that the facts and circumstances of the case are consistent with guilty intent or belief and inconsistent with innocent intent or belief, and excluding to a moral certainty every reasonable hypothesis except that of the defendant’s intention or belief that the promise would not be performed.

Another type of theft is theft by extortion.  A person obtains property by extortion when he compels or induces another person to deliver such property to himself or to a third person by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the property is not so delivered, the actor or another will:


  1. Cause physical injury to some person in the future; or
  2. Cause damage to property; or
  3. Engage in other conduct constituting a crime; or
  4. Accuse some person of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against him; or
  5. Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or
  6. Cause a strike, boycott or other collective labor group action injurious to some person’s business; except that such a threat shall not be deemed extortion when the property is demanded or received for the benefit of the group in whose interest the actor purports to act; or
  7. Testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information with respect to another’s legal claim or defense; or
  8. Use or abuse his position as a public servant by performing some act within or related to his official duties, or by failing or refusing to perform an official duty, in such manner as to affect some person adversely; or
  9. Perform any other act which would not in itself materially benefit the actor but which is calculated to harm another person materially with respect to his health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.


Theft may be committed by exercising unauthorized control, which occurs when a person knowingly takes or exercises unauthorized control over, or makes an unauthorized transfer of an interest in, the property of another person, with the intent of depriving the owner thereof.

Simply possessing stolen property may even rise to the level of a theft.  A person commits theft when he knowingly receives, retains, conceals, obtains control over, possesses, or disposes of stolen property, knowing the property to have been stolen or under such circumstances as would reasonably induce him to believe that the property was stolen, and


  1. He intends to deprive the owner permanently of the use or benefit of the property; or he knowingly uses, conceals or abandons the property in such manner as to deprive the owner permanently of such use or benefit; or
  2. He uses, conceals, or abandons the property knowing such use, concealment or abandonment probably will deprive the owner permanently of such use or benefit.


It is not just goods or materials items that can be the subject of a theft.  Theft of labor or services or use of property occurs when:


  1. A person obtains the temporary use of property, labor, or services of another that are available only for hire, by means of threat or deception or knowing that such use is without the consent of the person providing the property, labor, or services.
  2. A person, after renting or leasing a motor vehicle under an agreement in writing which provides for the return of the vehicle to a particular place at a particular time, willfully or intentionally fails to return the vehicle to that place within forty-eight (48) hours after the time specified.
  3. A person, having control over the disposition of services of others, to which he is not entitled, knowingly diverts such services to his own benefit or to the benefit of another not entitled thereto.

What is the difference between grand and petit theft?

Theft is divided into two (2) general levels of offense, grand theft and petit theft.

Grand theft.

A person is guilty of grand theft when he or she commits a theft (as defined above) and when the property, regardless of its nature and value, is obtained by extortion committed by instilling in the victim a fear that the actor or another person will:


  1. Cause physical injury to some person in the future; or
  2. Cause damage to property; or
  3. Use or abuse his position as a public servant by engaging in conduct within or related to his official duties, or by failing or refusing to perform an official duty, in such manner as to affect some person adversely.


Additionally, a person is guilty of grand theft when he commits a theft and when:

The value of the property taken exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000); or

The property consists of a public record, writing or instrument kept, filed or deposited according to law with or in the keeping of any public office or public servant; or

The property consists of a check, draft or order for the payment of money upon any bank, or a check, draft or order account number, or a financial transaction card or financial transaction card account number; or

The property, regardless of its nature or value, is taken from the person of another; or

The property, regardless of its nature and value, is obtained by extortion; or

The property consists of one (1) or more firearms, rifles or shotguns; or

The property taken or deliberately killed is livestock or any other animal exceeding one hundred fifty dollars ($150) in value.

When any series of thefts, comprised of individual thefts having a value of one thousand dollars ($1,000) or less, are part of a common scheme or plan, the thefts may be aggregated in one (1) count and the sum of the value of all of the thefts shall be the value considered in determining whether the value exceeds one thousand dollars ($1,000); or

The property has an aggregate value over fifty dollars ($50.00) and is stolen during three (3) or more incidents of theft during a criminal episode. For purposes of this subparagraph a “criminal episode” shall mean a series of unlawful acts committed over a period of up to three (3) days; or

The property is anhydrous ammonia.

Petit theft.

A person is guilty of petit theft when he or she commits a theft and his or her actions do not constitute grand theft.

What is the punishment?

When you are charged with grand theft the punishment will be determined by the specific nature of the case. I have outlined the general format below.

Grand theft by certain types of extortion is a felony punishable by a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) or imprisonment in the state prison for not less than one (1) year nor more than twenty (20) years, or by both a fine and imprisonment. That means a person convicted of grand theft must serve at least one (1) year in prison. This punishment covers extortion committed by instilling in the victim a fear that the actor or another person will (1) cause physical injury to some person in the future; or (2) cause damage to property; or (3) use of abuse his position as a public servant by engaging in conduct within or related to his official duties, or by failing or refusing to perform an official duty, in such manner as to affect some person adversely.

Grand theft of livestock is a felony punishable by a fine of not less than one thousand dollars ($1,000) nor more than five thousand dollars ($5,000). The $1,000 minimum fine cannot be suspended or withheld. The person convicted of the offense may also be imprisoned in the state prison for not less than one (1) year nor more than fourteen (14) years. That means the person convicted will serve at least one year in prison, and possibly more. In addition, the court can assess civil damages, as provided in section 25-1910, Idaho Code.

Grand theft committed in all other matters, is a felony punishable by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000), or by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than one (1) year nor more than fourteen (14) years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Petit theft is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding one (1) year, or by both.