Property CrimesTypes of Felonies

Property Crime Overview

Property crime includes all forms of theft or property destruction. The main purpose of theft-type crimes is to take money. However, these crimes are carried out without using any force or threatening to use force against the victim.

Types of Property Crimes

Auto Theft

The Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the FBI defines auto or motor vehicle theft as attempted or actual theft of a motor vehicle.

Stealing an automobile or a motor vehicle is also called grand theft auto, and in most states, it is considered as a felony punishable by imprisonment. The exact nature of punishment differs between states.

All theft-related crimes are divided into grand and petty thefts. Petty thefts are misdemeanors, which mean one year of jail term, while grand thefts are typically felonies and can involve more than one year in prison. Grand theft is when a person steals something worth between $500 and $1,000.

The prosecution must prove that the person accused of theft:

  • drove or took the vehicle
  • belonging to someone else
  • with the intention to permanently take the vehicle.

Defending Grand Auto Theft Charges

The two options of defense are that you did not have the intention to permanently deprive the vehicle owner of their vehicle or that the car owner had agreed to your taking the vehicle.

Intent– If you take another person’s car with the intention of returning it, then it does not qualify as grand auto theft, which is a felony. Instead, this could become a misdemeanor.

Consent– There is also no crime if the vehicle owner consented to you taking the car. However, it has to be established that the owner consented on this particular occasion. If the owner had provided consent earlier, it does not qualify as consent.

Penalties for Grand Theft Auto

Punishment is different from state to state. In some states, the punishment depends on the value of the stolen property. For instance, in Florida, motor vehicle theft is a third-degree felony that has a jail term of five years and a fine of $5,000, or both, apart from the suspension of driver’s license for six months.

If the vehicle is valued more than $20,000 but below $100,000, it is a second-degree felony with 15 years of jail term and a fine of $10,000, or both. Stealing a vehicle valued $100,000 or more is a first-degree felony and can face 30 years of jail with a fine of $10,000, or both.


Burglary is illegally breaking and entering into any building with the intention of committing a crime. To qualify as burglary, there need not be any use of force while gaining entry. The UCR Program classifies burglary into:

  • Forcible entry
  • Unlawful entry without the use of force
  • Attempted forcible entry

The illegal entry can be into any structure, including house trailer, apartment, office, barn, houseboat, stable, railroad car, or ship.

To prove a person is guilty of burglary, prosecutors have to establish:

  1. Unauthorized breaking and entering – This can happen in two methods of actual and constructive. Actual breaking is when physical force, such as pushing a door, kicking a door, or picking a lock, is used, while constructive breaking uses other methods, such as fraud or blackmail, instead of physical force.
  2. into an occupied structure – The structure must be such that it houses people or animals and must be closed for the public at the time of the crime. If a person breaks and enters at daylight, it is considered shoplifting and not burglary.
  3. with the intention of committing a crime. – Breaking and entering into a gallery or a house to view a beautiful painting does not qualify as burglary. There has to be an intent to commit a crime.

Defending Burglary Charges

If you are charged with burglary, contacting your lawyer who can advise you on the possible defense options is the first step. Some of the ways to defend yourself could be to claim innocence and challenge the forensic evidence presented.

Another argument could be that you had the consent of the owner to enter the structure. Even if you mistakenly believed that the owner had given permission to enter, this would be enough to fight the burglary charge. The other factors that can work in your favor are on proving the intention to commit a crime and the timing of breaking and entering.

Penalties for Burglary

In many states, burglary is counted as a felony and divided into “degrees,” where first-degree is the most serious type of crime, while second and third-degree are less serious offenses.

Jail or prison– A felony burglary can attract between 20 and 30 years of jail term. Misdemeanor burglary may have up to one year of prison term.

Fines– Fines can be up to $100,000 or more if it is a felony conviction. Misdemeanor fines can be as low as $1,000.

Restitution– A court may order restitution where you will have to compensate victims for their losses to allow them to replace or repair damaged property.

Probation– Probation sentences can be in addition to a prison sentence where you have to comply with all the conditions of probation and regularly report to a probation officer.

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Larceny in several states is placed in the category of theft. In some other states, larceny is different from other property crimes, including robbery or embezzlement. For instance, in New York, theft can be of many things, such as identity theft, services theft, intellectual property theft, and personal property theft. On the other hand, many states define larceny as illegally taking away personal property that is capable of being physically carried away.

To qualify as larceny, the crime must have:

  • unlawfully taking away
  • of someone’s property
  • without the owner’s consent
  • with the intention to deprive the owner permanently of the property.

When multiple items are stolen at the same time from one owner, it may be taken as one larceny, but in some states, this can be charged as multiple larcenies. The location and timings are looked at to see if the crime was a single activity or multiple.

If there are multiple activities, it can be considered as multiple larcenies.

Penalties for Larceny

Larceny punishment varies as per different state laws, the value of the property involved, and the type of property. In many states, theft and larceny are differently defined, while in some like California, these two are interchangeable. Larceny is categorized into petty larceny and grand larceny.

Petty theft or larceny is when the property that’s stolen is of low value. While the actual value cut-off varies from state-to-state, it can generally range from $500 to $1,000 to attract petty theft charges. These are usually misdemeanors with fines up to $1,000 and relatively short prison times of six months or less, but definitely below one year.

Grand theft relates to the theft of valuable stolen property with dollar value being more than the limit mentioned under petty theft. Grand theft can either be charged as a misdemeanor or felony based on how the theft occurred apart from the value of the property.  For instance, the cut-off between felony and misdemeanor is $200 in Virginia, while in Arizona, the divide is $1,000 between the two charges.

Apart from the value of the property, in some states, theft of certain things like firearms, regardless of the value, attracts a felony charge. In some states, stealing of some special items also attracts felony charges. For instance, in Kentucky, stealing anhydrous ammonia that is used to make a controlled substance called methamphetamines is considered a felony.

In New York, thefts of secret scientific material, public records, and debit/credit cards come under the felony category. In Washington, taking away a search and rescue dog that is on duty is a felony. 

Prosecutors consider things including what type of property was stolen, the manner in which it was stolen, prior criminal history, and any other charges. Felony charges can mean a minimum prison time of one year or more.

In New York, penalties depend on the degrees of larcenies, with jail term ranging from one to twelve years, while petty larcenies can have up to one year of jail term.

In California, the laws related to larceny and theft are laid down in Sections 484 to 487 under California Penal Code. The types of larceny-related crimes in this state can be related to theft by:

  • False pretenses
  • Embezzlement
  • Fraud

Larceny is the legal term for theft in California and can be a felony or misdemeanor based on the value of the stolen goods. The crime is considered as grand theft if the value of the property is above $950, and can be a felony or misdemeanor, while anything below $950 is petty theft and is usually a misdemeanor.

However, a low-value property theft can be a felony in California if the accused has earlier been convicted for a serious felony or is registered as a sex-offender.

Petty theft in California attracts six months of jail term and/or a fine of $1,000.


According to the FBI, arson is malicious or intentional burning or an attempt to burn a public building, a dwelling house, motor vehicle, or someone’s personal property. There may or may not be any intention to defraud or commit any other crime. While many arson crimes are related to damage to buildings, setting fire to forests, boats, or land is also considered as arson. Arson is typically charged as a felony because of the higher risk of injuries or death.

Arson is committed when a person uses fire or explosive knowingly to:

  • damage someone’s property without their consent,
  • or damage another person’s property to defraud an insurer.

Arson also can occur in cases of domestic violence and to hide evidence in more serious crimes such as murder.

In many cases, arson is committed to getting quick money from insurers. If a person commits arson on their own property, they will face arson charges. When a person intentionally sets fire to his or her own property for getting insurance money, they face charges for both arson and insurance fraud.

State Arson Laws

Some states divide arson into first and second-degree arson. The difference between these two degrees is whether the building was occupied at the time of setting fire or not.  Here are some examples of arson laws in different states:

North Carolina: In North Carolina, arson is the burning of any mobile home or dwelling. If it is occupied when the arson is committed, it is categorized as a first-degree felony, and if unoccupied, it is classified as a second-degree felony. Burning of other structures like churches, schools, boats, tobacco houses, and business buildings are also felonies but have lesser punishments.

Illinois: In Illinois, arson crimes are charged only when the property’s value is more than $150. However, if structures such as schools or buildings are set on fire, they are considered to be arson, irrespective of their value. In Illinois, arson and aggravated arson are two different categories. Aggravated arson is when a fire is set intentionally, and:

  • someone is inside the building,
  • a person is injured, or
  • a fireman or policeman is injured.

New York: Arson is grouped under four categories in New York for determining sentences. These four categories are further divided into two classes based on whether or not the building was occupied when the fire was set. If a device such as a molotov cocktail is used, special consideration may be given.

Federal Arson Law

Federal laws also cover arson apart from state laws. Federal arson law prohibits the intentional setting of fires in government property and jurisdiction. These can include:

  • Buildings
  • Structures
  • Vessels
  • Machinery
  • Building materials and supplies
  • Naval or military stores
  • Munitions of war
  • Structural appliances or aids used for navigation and/or shipping.

Federal arson laws are applicable for conspiring to start a fire and attempting to set fire on federal property.

Defending Arson Charges

The penalties for arson generally are based on the extent of harm done. If a person set the fire because of carelessness or recklessness and without deliberate intent to damage or cause harm and if nobody was injured, the arson may be considered to be a misdemeanor in some states.

In many cases, setting a fire is typically treated as a felony. Prison terms are based on the harm caused. The jail term can be two years if the building or structure was not occupied, and the damage done to the property is within limits specified by the specific state law. If the arson caused serious bodily injury or death, it could result in life imprisonment.

Depending on which state the arson occurred, one possible defense is that you set fire to your own property. In states like New York, if you own the property, have not damaged anyone else’s property, and have not caused death or injuries, this can be an acceptable defense. In many states, this defense may not be acceptable. An experienced criminal lawyer can help you in defending against a charge of arson.

Penalties for Arson

  • Prison– Arson conviction can attract life imprisonment if it is proven that a person intentionally set fire to a property or structure. Other prison sentences for less serious offenses can range between 1 year and 20 years.
  • Probation– Probation sentences can range from one to five years.
  • Fines– Fines are in addition to prison terms and can vary from a few thousand dollars to as much as $50,000.
  • Restitution– A court may order the convicted person to compensate the owner for damages of the property.


Theft is a broader term as compared to larceny and includes many forms of illegal taking of property, such as:

  • Embezzlement
  • Identity theft
  • Intellectual property theft
  • Larceny
  • False pretenses

Theft, in simple terms, is when a person takes the property belonging to another person without their consent or authorization. While most times theft convictions happen at the state level, these charges also occur at the federal level.

In many states, if less than $500 worth of property is stolen, it is petty theft, while for crimes involving more than $500, it is grand theft. Although, in some states, the threshold ranges from $200 to $1,000.

Federal Theft Law

Theft can be charged as a federal crime under many circumstances rather than as a state offense. If property belonging to the federal government is stolen,  the theft is charged as a federal offense. Theft occurring on international waters or Native American reservations is also considered as federal theft. A person may be charged with federal theft when the crime is committed across state lines, such as transporting property across several states. Additionally, any type of cyber theft involving the use of the internet is also classified as a federal crime.

Many different crimes are considered to be federal theft cases. Some examples are:

  1. Not depositing money: When a person who is in possession and control of United States currency fails to deposit the same with the treasurer, it counts as federal theft.
  2. Misusing public funds: When a person who is responsible for guarding public money uses this money without authorization for purposes other than what it is intended for, it is considered as federal theft. The penalties can be as much as ten years of jail term.
  3. Property theft during interstate commerce: Stealing property from any form of transportation that relates to interstate commerce is a federal theft offense.
  4. Stealing public property: If government property is stolen, it is counted as federal theft. For property value below $1,000, the prison term is below one year, while the jail term is 10 years when the property value is more than $1,000.

Penalties for Theft

Since there are many crimes that qualify as theft, penalties can also vary based on the specific details of each case. Courts consider these factors in deciding on penalties:

  • The type of property stolen and its value
  • The criminal background of the accused – repeat offenses carry more punishment
  • Whether threats of force, force, or violence were used to carry out the crime

Identity theft (ID) can have a maximum penalty of 15 years and can go up to 20 years when:

  • There is a prior conviction
  • The ID theft is related to drug trafficking crime or international terrorism.

Theft charges can be complicated. If you are charged with a theft-related crime, it is important to consult a criminal defense lawyer who can advise you on your defense options.

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