The Differences Between Misdemeanor and Felony Theft
Within the state of Wyoming, theft crimes can range from shoplifting to grand theft auto, but very few residents understand the exact ramifications of each crime. These cases can become rather complex, with the difference in charges being based on the value of the stolen property to whether or not a firearm was involved. Altogether, theft crimes can be classified as misdemeanors or felonies, but what exactly is the difference and how can it affect you?
Theft Charges in Wyoming
Theft, which is also referred to as “larceny,” is defined by Wyoming statute 6-3-402, however, there are several other statutes that can come into play depending on the specific charge. When talking about theft broadly, the law describes theft as knowingly taking another person’s property in order to deprive them of its value. This can involve several different scenarios, but, in essence, if you are charged with a theft crime, the court must prove that you:
- Intended to take property from another person;
- Knowingly received, used, hid, or disposed of another person’s property; and/or
- Demanded that the owner pay you for the property to be returned.
Because theft is an intent crime, you do not necessarily have to successfully steal something to be charged with theft. Instead, if you attempted to shoplift or tried to break into someone’s home to steal their jewelry, that would be considered theft, even if you do not succeed in stealing any property.
Within the various types of theft crimes in Wyoming, the most common ones are:
- Petty theft
- Grand theft
- Auto theft
- Receiving stolen property
- “Dine and dash”
In addition, if your charges involve a weapon or use of violence, then the charge may graduate to aggravated robbery or burglary, which will include harsher penalties.
Misdemeanors or Felonies
While the specific crime you may be charged with can have other requirements for a conviction, theft crimes are generally charged as misdemeanors or felonies. However, determining which you will be charged with will depend on several factors, such as whether or not a weapon was involved or the value of the stolen property.
Typically, misdemeanor charges can lead up to a $1,000 fine and/or six months to a year in a county jail. In contrast, felony charges can lead to imprisonment in a state prison for up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine, though that is only if you are charged with theft. Aggravated crimes and other enhancements can lead to a much longer sentence.
The types of theft crimes that are charged as misdemeanors include:
- Petty theft: If the value of the stolen property is below $1,000, then this is only a misdemeanor.
- Auto theft: Generally, this is a felony, but it can be a misdemeanor if the value of the stolen car is low enough.
- Breaking into a coin machine: This can involve any machine that accepts coins, such as a vending machine.
- Taking possession of land: Though this is rare, if you are charged with taking possession of another person’s land unlawfully, it can result in a misdemeanor charge.
- Leaving a business without paying for services: Sometimes referred to as a “dine and dash,” this type of theft can amount to a misdemeanor if the value of a meal or service was below $1,000.
- Obtaining property by false pretenses: Receiving stolen property means that you purchased or were gifted property that you knew was stolen. If the property is less than $1,000, then it is a misdemeanor.
- Fraudulently obtaining telecommunications services: Often referred to as a telecom fraud, this involves charging someone for a subscription service without their consent.
- Unlawful use of theft detection shielding devices: This refers to manufacturing, using, and selling electronic equipment that allows an individual to steal a product without setting off security alarms, such as when shoplifting.
Many of the above crimes are classified as misdemeanors based on the value of the property stolen, making them subject to the same penalties and rules as petty theft. In contrast, most felony theft crimes are based on grand theft, which involves stealing property worth more than $1,000, but there are other factors that can lead to a felony.
Theft crimes in Wyoming that are charged as a felony include:
- Grand theft: This is an umbrella term for any theft crime where the value of the property was more than $1,000.
- Auto theft: Typically, if the car is worth more than $1,000, it is grand theft.
- Robbery: Because a robbery charge involves a threat of violence, it is often charged as a felony. If the defendant intentionally commits violence against someone during the crime, it can become “aggravated robbery.”
- Burglary: While robbery charges involve threats of violence, burglary charges are based upon breaking into another person’s property to steal from them. However, if someone was injured during the crime, it becomes “aggravated burglary.”
- Carjacking: Because carjacking specifically involves forcefully taking a vehicle from someone else, it is considered a felony crime.
- Possession of burglary tools: This is always charged as a felony, whether or not they are used to commit burglary.
Shoplifting, a dine and dash, and receiving stolen property are all charged as felonies if the property or services were worth more than $1,000.
Fighting Theft Charges
Building a defense case for theft charges will depend on the specific charges, the amount of property you allegedly stole, and the circumstances of the crime. However, if you employ the services of a Gillette criminal defense attorney at Steven Titus & Associates, P.C., our experienced legal team can provide thorough legal representation throughout your trial.
We may be able to argue that the arresting officers violated your civil rights, performed an illegal search and seizure, or that it is a case of mistaken identity. Or we may demonstrate that there was confusion over ownership. In addition, if you are facing felony charges, we may be able to protect your rights by convincing the court to reduce them to a misdemeanor, such as if the value of the stolen property is in flux.
If you or your loved one are facing charges of theft in Campbell County, then reach out to our firm at (307) 257-7800 to get the best legal aid in Wyoming.
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