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What is Petit Larceny?

Petit larceny is the theft of money or other goods whose value is less than $5 when taken directly from a person or whose value is less than $1000 when not taken from a person directly. Pickpocketing is a classic example of the taking of items directly form a person’s body or belongings. By contrast, examples of petit larceny not from a person include shoplifting and altering price tags. Petit larceny is a Class 1 Misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500, up to one year in jail, or both.

It is important to note that petit larceny is a completely separate offense than grand larceny or embezzlement. Grand larceny applies when the value of the goods is over $5 when taken directly from a person and over $1000 when taken indirectly. Theft of a firearm, regardless of its value, is always considered grand larceny. Embezzlement on the other hand involves the taking of goods that the lawful owner willingly entrusted to you. Most of embezzlement cases occur in the context of employment.

Common Defenses

Given the severity of the possible penalties that a conviction for petit larceny can yield, it is best to consult an attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case. The aid of a legal team will ensure that you have the strongest defenses available to you. Common defenses to the crime of petit larceny include the following:

  • Mistaken identity. Perhaps the alarms went off as you and another person tried to exit the store. You were stopped at the door while the other person hurried on towards the parking lot.It may appear to look as though you were the thief when in actuality it was the other person. This is a clear case of mistaken identity where, upon learning the truth that you were not the thief in question, any charges of larceny should be dismissed.
  • Permission to take the property. Maybe you know the owner of an establishment and they told you to go to one of the shelves and take whatever you wanted from it, for free. An employee who was unaware of your relationship with the owner may accuse you of petit larceny and call the police. As soon as it is discovered that you had permission to take the goods, meaning there was never any theft at all, the charges should be dismissed.
  • Mistaken belief of ownership. With a full cart of groceries at self-checkout, sometimes something accidently gets missed in the scanning process or left in the cart entirely. As you are on your way out of the store, you get stopped and accused of petit larceny. If you explain that you genuinely thought that you had paid for everything and offer up to go back and pay for the missed item, this should be taken into consideration either by the employee, the police, or a judge (depending on how far into the criminal justice system the case gets).
  • Another person put the goods in your bag. It may be the case that you were the unintentional courier of a stolen item. Often times young children will grab items and just put them in the stroller or cart without your knowledge and before you know it, you have just unintentionally committed theft. Or perhaps another patron slipped something in your purse only so that they may pickpocket it off you later once you have successfully left the store undetected.In both scenarios, you never actually meant to take anything – it was merely placed on you without your knowing. Your accidental participation in the incident should be taken into consideration when deciding whether to charge you with petit larceny and, if already charged, whether to dismiss the case all together.

Reaching Out to an Attorney

As always, if you have any questions, we highly recommend that you reach out to us or another attorney for guidance on how to proceed with your case.