The Pennsylvania definition of Theft may be found in 18 PACS 3902, et seq.  Over the years, the Pennsylvania Legislature has consolidated multiple property offenses into the single offense of Theft.  Along with Theft as an individual crime, it is also the first element of the crime of Robbery.  The multiple property offenses included under the title of Theft include:

1.  Theft by Unlawful Taking or Disposition

Found at 18 PACS 3921, the crime of Theft by Unlawful Taking or Disposition is defines as:  a person unlawfully taking or exercising unlawful control over the moveable property of another with the intent to deprive the owner of that property.  You are also guilty of Theft if the Prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you unlawfully transferred or exercised control over the immovable property of another or any interest therein with the intent to benefit yourself or another.

2.  Theft by Deception

You are guilty of Theft by Deception if the Prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally obtained or withheld the property of another by deception.

18 PACS 3922 defines “Deception” as when you intentionally:

  • Create or reinforce a false impression, including an impression at to law, value, intention, or other state of mind;
  • prevent another from acquiring information that would affect his judgment of a transaction; or
  • Fail to correct a false impression that you previously created or reinforced or that you know to be influencing another with whom you stand in a fiduciary or confidential relationship.

Under the Statute for Theft, it is important to note that “Deception” as to the your intent to perform a promise cannot be inferred from the fact that you did not perform the promise.  Additionally, “Deception” does not include falsity as to matters with no monetary significance, or through “puffing” statements (matters of opinion) that are unlikely to deceive ordinary people in the group addressed.

3.  Theft by Extortion

For the definition of Theft by Extortion, you will have to look in 18 PACS 3923.  Generally speaking, you are guilty of Theft by Extortion if you intentionally obtain or withhold the property of another by threatening to:

  • Commit another criminal offense;
  • Accuse another of a criminal offense;
  • Expose any secret tending to subject any person to hatred, contempt, or ridicule;
  • Take or withhold action as an official;
  • Bring about or continue a strike, boycott, or other collective action if the property is not demanded for the group you purport to represent;
  • Testify, provide information, or withhold testimony or information with respect to the legal claim of another; or
  • Inflict any other harm that would not benefit yourself.

4.  Theft of Property Lost, Mislaid, or Delivered by Mistake

This type of Theft is less common, but still a crime.  The official language may be found in 18 PACS 3924.  According to the statute, you are guilty if the Prosecution is able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you came into control of the property of another knowing that it has been lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake and you:

  • Have the intent to deprive the owner of that property; and
  • Fail to take reasonable measures to restore the property to a person entitled to have it.

5.  Receiving Stolen Property

Probably one of the most common Theft offenses, Receiving Stolen Property is codified at 18 PACS 3925.  For this offense, the Prosecution must prove that you intentionally received, retained, or disposed of the moveable property of another knowing that it had been stolen or believing that it probably had been stolen, unless the property is received, retained, or disposed of with the intent to restore it to the owner.

6.  Theft of Services

You are guilty of Theft of Services if the Prosecution proves that you intentionally obtained services, for yourself or another, that you know are available only for a price by the use of deception or threat.  Or if you intentionally obtained services by false token or other trick or artifice to avoid payment for the service.  For the full language, see 18 PACS 3926.

Theft by Service is a Summary Offense when the value of the services obtained is less than $50; otherwise, it is treated as other Theft offenses are.

7.  Theft by Failure to Make Required Disposition of Funds Received

If the Prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that you obtained property by agreement or subject to a known legal obligation to make specified payments or other disposition, and you intentionally deal with the property obtained as your own and fail to make the required payment or disposition, then you are guilty of Theft by Failure to Make Required Dispositions of Funds Received.  The full language of the statute is found at 18 PACS 3927.

8.  Retail Theft

Another common Theft crime, Retail Theft is 18 PACS 3929.  There are five (5) different ways to commit Retail Theft:

  • You take possession of, carry away, transfer, or cause to be carried away or transferred any merchandise displayed, held, stored, or offered for sale by any retail merchant with the intent to deprive the merchant of the possession, use, or benefit of the merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof;
  • You alter, transfer, or remove any markings that aid in determining the value and are affixed to any merchandise, and attempt to purchase such merchandise at less than the full retail value with the intent to deprive the merchant of the full retail value of such merchandise;
  • You transfer any merchandise from the container in which it is displayed to any other container with the intent to deprive the merchant of all or part of the full retail value of such merchandise;
  • You underring a sale with the intent to deprive the merchant of the full retail value of the merchandise; or
  • You destroy, remove, or deactivate any mechanism employed to prevent an offense under this section with the intent to deprive the merchant of the possession, use, or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof.

How Are Theft Crimes Graded?

Determining whether a Theft charge is a felony or misdemeanor generally depends on what you allegedly took.  Theft is a more serious felony when:

  • the offense is committed during any disaster and is a Theft by unlawful taking or disposition, receipt of stolen property, the unauthorized use of an automobile, or retail theft;
  • the stolen property is a firearm; or
  • in the case of receiving stolen property, the property received is a firearm and the receiver is in the business of buying or selling stolen property.

Theft is a less serious felony when:

  • the amount involved is more than $2000;
  • the property stolen is an automobile, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat, or other motor-propelled vehicle; or
  • in the case of Theft by receiving stolen property, the property received is not a firearm and the receiver is in the business of buying or selling stolen property.

Finally, if your charges do not fit the examples listed above, your Theft charge is a Misdemeanor.

What Should You Do if Charged with a Theft?

As with most criminal offenses, the crime of Theft is very fact dependent.  That means there are almost always defenses to your charges.  However, those defenses also depend on what evidence the Prosecution has against you.  The Prosecution will only turn over that evidence once I am your attorney.  Therefore, it is important that you contact my office immediately upon being charged so that we have as much time as possible to begin your defense.  Give me a call at (412) 209-0657 or send me an inquiry.