The Consequences of the First Offense of Petty Theft

Written by laura terwilliger
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The Consequences of the First Offense of Petty Theft
Stealing, even small, low-value items, is a crime. (Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Petty theft is a type of theft or larceny and is also known as petit theft. Each state determines its own requirements for the crime of petty theft, but all jurisdictions tend to follow similar rules. Petty theft is a misdemeanour and is generally considered a minor offence; however, having any crime on your record can have unwanted consequences.

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Definition

Petty theft is a subcategory of the crime of theft. Any stealing is illegal, regardless of the victim or how much is taken. Petty theft may be charged when the items stolen are worth less than a given dollar amount. This dollar amount is decided by each state. Petty theft is a less serious crime than grand theft, which occurs when the items stolen are worth more than a given amount. Petty theft is a misdemeanour, meaning that it is a crime punishable by less than one year in jail.

Arrest and Charges

The first consequence of petty theft is arrest. If someone is caught committing petty theft, the police will arrest him, and he will be entered into the criminal justice system. This often means being "booked:" having mugshots taken, fingerprints recorded and being held in custody. During this time, charges may be filed against the suspect by the local district attorney's office. The person charged will need to appear in court to respond to the charges.

Conviction

There are a few ways to be convicted of petty theft. One is to plead guilty. Pleading guilty means that the person charged admits to committing the crime. If the person pleads guilty, there is no trial, and she will move directly to sentencing. One reason people plead guilty is to receive a lighter punishment. Another way to be convicted is by a jury. In the United States, every person has a right to a jury trial for criminal charges. This means that a jury comprised of people from the community will listen to the arguments and determine whether the defendant is guilty or not. A third option is to waive a jury trial for a bench trial. A bench trial is where only the judge decides whether the defendant is guilty. If a defendant is convicted of petty theft, the crime will be entered into her criminal record.

Restitution

Many courts will require restitution for a petty theft offence. Restitution means that the convicted thief has to return the stolen property or pay an equivalent amount to the victim. The thief may also have to pay for court costs or fines imposed by the court. Additionally, the defendant may be sentenced to community service in order to pay back the community for committing the crime.

Imprisonment

It is rare for a first-time petty theft offender to receive any substantial jail time. Some states do not impose jail time at all for petty theft, but others may sentence a convicted defendant to up to a year in jail. Any aggravating circumstances, such as committing an assault during the theft, may result in harsher punishment.

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