The crime of larceny is what many of us think of as ordinary theft. It involves the taking of someone else’s property without their consent and with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. Although larceny is on a general decline within the United States, the FBI has reported there were over six million larceny crimes in 2010. Larceny originated as a common law crime, but most states now incorporate the crime of larceny into their penal code. Although the exact state statutes may vary, larceny typically involves (1) the unlawful taking (2) of the property of another (3) without their consent (4) and with the specific intent to permanently deprive the owner of that property.
Taking the Property of Another
Larceny requires that someone affirmatively take the property of another. While some states define take to mean “carry away,” others simply require that the person committing the crime take control of the property, rather than actually move it. Thus, while larceny may occur when a bracelet or piece of jewelry is stolen, it may also occur when a gym-goer owns a locker at a gym that another takes control over. Even though the locker does not move and is not taken from its location, another person has taken control and possession of it.
Larceny also requires that the property actually belongs to another. If the property is originally yours and you have loaned it to another, it is not larceny to take that property back. For instance, if a woman lets her sister borrow a cake mixer to make a few cakes and the sister forgets to return it, it is not larceny for the woman to stop by her sister’s house and take the cake mixer back.
Finally, if two people co-own property, one owner can commit larceny against the other if they deprive the other owner of their right to the property. Thus, if three people co-own a grill, but one moves it to his vacation home without the others’ permission, he has committed larceny.
Larceny requires that the owner of the property failed to give their consent for the property to be taken. If a defendant receives consent to borrow or take property, he cannot be charged with larceny because no unlawful taking has occurred.
Like attempt, larceny is a specific intent crime. This means that a defendant can only be convicted of larceny if he had the specific intent to permanently deprive another of their property. If the defendant merely meant to borrow the property for a few minutes, or mistakenly thought that it belonged to him, this is not enough to establish larceny. Similarly, an individual cannot recklessly or negligently commit a larceny.
Punishment and Defenses
In most states, punishment for larceny depends on the nature of the property taken. This is often done by considering the monetary value of the property. For instance, if a defendant steals a big screen TV worth five thousand dollars he will be subjected to tougher punishment than a defendant who steals a vase worth twenty dollars. Additionally, states vary as to whether they categorize larceny as a felony or a misdemeanor. You will need to check the penal code and statutes of your state to determine what punishment may apply.
A common defense to larceny is consent by the property owner. Because taking the property without consent is necessary to a finding of larceny, a defendant who can prove that she had consent has proven that she did not commit a crime of larceny. Some defendants may also use the defense of entrapment against a larceny charge. Entrapment occurs when a defendant is persuaded by a police officer or government official to commit a crime and he or she would not otherwise have done so. Thus if a police officer involved in an investigation convinces his informant to steal a necessary piece of evidence, the informant cannot be found guilty of larceny. He committed the crime only at the behest of the officer and would not otherwise have done so.