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What is theft?

On Behalf of | Jul 3, 2024 | criminal defense |

In Maryland the crime of theft is collectively categorized as “General Theft” in MD Code, Criminal Law, § 7-104.  This statute covers what theft is and what the penalties are. Certain types of theft, such as the theft of motor vehicles, can be charged under this statute, but also have specific statutes relating to those crimes. Theft is when a person willfully or knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over the property. In order to qualify as theft the person obtaining or exerting control must satisfy three conditions:

(1) intends to deprive the owner of the property;

(2) willfully or knowingly uses, conceals, or abandons the property in a manner that deprives the owner of the property; or

(3) uses, conceals, or abandons the property knowing the use, concealment, or abandonment probably will deprive the owner of the property.

Importantly, the state must prove one of these three factors, while also showing that the person did so in a willful or knowing way. This means that the state must prove that you knew  that the control you were exerting over the property was unauthorized and that you had the intention to deprive the owner of the property. A common example regarding this idea is this: imagine your neighbor is mowing his lawn with a lawnmower. Yours broke so you ask him if you can borrow his. He says you can as long as you wait until he’s finished. Later that day you see it on his driveway, so you take it and mow your law, before putting it back. When you bring it back your neighbor says, “you stole my lawnmower!” Did you commit theft? No. First, you did not willfully or knowingly obtain or exert unauthorized control over the property. You had his permission. Second, there was no intention to deprive your neighbor of his lawnmower. It was temporary and you were giving it back.

Ways to commit theft

The Maryland Criminal Law Code specifically criminalizes several ways that theft can be committed in addition to general theft. First is deception. Under Criminal Law, § 7-104(b) a person may not obtain control over property by willfully or knowingly using deception. Second, a person may not knowingly possess stolen personal property if they know it has been stolen, or believe it has probably been stolen. Md. Code Criminal Law, § 7-104(c)(2)  goes into further detail:

In the case of a person in the business of buying or selling goods, the knowledge required under this subsection may be inferred if:

(i) the person possesses or exerts control over property stolen from more than one person on separate occasions;

(ii) during the year preceding the criminal possession charged, the person has acquired stolen property in a separate transaction; or

(iii) being in the business of buying or selling property of the sort possessed, the person acquired it for a consideration that the person knew was far below a reasonable value.

What are the penalties for theft?

The penalties for theft depend on the value of the items stolen. If the value of the property stolen is less than $100, then a conviction results in a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500. If the value of the property is between $100 and $1,500 then a conviction results in a maximum penalty, for the first offense, of 6 months and/or a fine of up to $500. A second conviction can result in up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of up to $500. Each one of these misdemeanors require restitution. This means the stolen property must either be returned or the owner must be repaid the value of the lost property. The determination of value of the lost property is dictated by Md. Code Criminal Law  § 7-103, which states that the value of the property or service was the market value at the time of the crime or, if market value cannot be determined, it is the cost of the replacement of the property or service within a reasonable amount of time after the crime.

For theft of $1,500-$25,000 a conviction results in a felony with a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. If the value of the stolen property is $25,000-$100,000 a conviction results in a felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years incarceration and/or a fine of up to $15,000. Lastly, theft of any and all property valued at greater than $100,000 can result in a felony conviction with a maximum penalty of 25 years incarceration and/or a fine of up to $25,000. Like the misdemeanor theft offenses, a person convicted of these felony theft charges must also return the property or repay the owner for the value of the lost property.

What can Maronick Law do to help you?

Being charged with theft under MD Code, Criminal Law, § 7-104 is a serious matter and it is important to be represented by the best counsel possible. Even if the value of the property is low, and you are being charged with a misdemeanor, compared to a felony, the potential consequences can result in substantial jail time, monetary cost, and additional consequences.  Additionally, defending yourself against an allegation of theft can be surprisingly complex. Even if you have an ownership interest in the property, it is still possible to be charged and convicted of theft for that property, if another person also has ownership of it. The attorneys here at Maronick Law are experienced at handling all manner of theft cases, from misdemeanor theft of less than $100 to felony theft charges. We will fight tirelessly in defending you and are willing to work as long and as hard as it takes to achieve the best result possible in your case.  

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