General theft – Sentencing (2023)

Theft is defined by section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 as the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention to permanently deprive the other of it.

The principal aim of theft is to acquire property. Theft includes:

  • stealing from a person such as pick pocketing
  • stealing from a dwelling
  • stealing in breach of trust, for example from an employer
  • stealing from a motor vehicle
  • stealing metal cables from a railway

Shoplifting is a form of theft but there are some differences in how it is prosecuted and sentenced.

(Video) Law enforcement uses sentencing of old retail theft ring as warning to others

What is the difference between theft, burglary and robbery?

The terms theft, burglary and robbery are often used interchangeably – particularly because people tend to commit these offences for very similar reasons. However, there are clear differences between them:

  • theft means taking someone’s property but without the use of force
  • burglary means illegally entering a property to steal something from it
  • robbery means stealing from a person using force (or threatening to use force)

Read our blog to find out more about the difference between these offences.

What is the difference between theft and fraud?

There is often an overlap between theft and fraud because fraud may include taking someone’s property or money by deceiving them. Identity theft and other offences that might be described as cybercrime will generally be covered by the Fraud Act 2006. Some conduct may amount to offences under both acts.

How is a person found guilty of theft?

For someone to be found guilty of general theft, there must be evidence of all the following:

  • appropriation
  • of property
  • belonging to another
  • dishonestly
  • with intention to permanently deprive

Appropriation means assuming the rights of a legal owner of the property without consent, for example taking a car from someone and driving it without permission. Appropriation also includes instances where the property had initially been obtained with permission but the person had no intention of returning it, for example failing to return a car after a test drive.

(Video) Retail and Grand Theft in a Trial Court Sentencing

Property includes money and personal property.

Property belonging to another is property in the possession or control of another person, including where the property is on loan from the legal owner and then stolen.

Dishonestly means the person would have known that “reasonable and honest people” would regard the conduct as dishonest. If a person can show they had genuine belief they had the legal right to take the property they cannot be found guilty.

Intention to permanently deprive means treating the property as your own regardless of the rights of the owner.


Parliament sets the maximum (and sometimes minimum) penalty for any offence. When deciding the appropriate sentence, the court must follow any relevant sentencing guidelines, unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

(Video) Accountant sentenced for theft scheme

What is the maximum sentence for theft?

The maximum sentence for theft is seven years’ custody.

Find out more about the different types of sentence the courts can impose.

How is the sentence worked out?

Sentences are calculated by an assessment of culpability and harm, as well as considering any aggravating or mitigating factors.

Culpability is assessed by considering things such as how much planning went into the theft and the role played by the offender.

Harm is assessed by the financial loss resulting from the theft and any additional harm suffered by the victim or anyone else, for example injury or emotional distress.

(Video) Defendant collapses in court after guilty verdict

Aggravating factors may increase the severity of the sentence. Examples include where the offender:

  • has previous criminal convictions
  • stole goods to order
  • carried out the offending over a long period of time

Mitigating factors may reduce the severity of the sentence. Examples include where the offender:

  • has no previous convictions
  • has shown remorse and/or is of good character
  • has a serious medical condition
  • is young or lacks maturity
  • has a mental disorder or learning disability
  • is the sole or primary carer for dependent relatives
  • can demonstrate they have taken steps to address addiction or offending behaviour

If the defendant pleads guilty, they will also receive a reduced sentence.

See the sentencing guideline to find out more about how sentences for theft are worked out.

Useful information


Are judges out of touch?

All judges face the realities of crime in society every day, with all types of offenders coming before them from all sections of the community. Judges and the public are more in tune than many people think – when people are asked to sentence actual cases, the sentences chosen are pretty similar to those that judges pick. You can see how you compare with judges by trying out You be the Judge – listen to the facts of the case and pass your own judgement.

(Video) Sheriff Blakely to Serve Sentence

The information on this page is not a complete legal analysis of the offences and is not a substitute for legal advice. The law will be different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.


What is a good punishment for theft? ›

Judges might consider alternatives to jail—such as probation, community service, or restitution—for a first-time offender or low-level offenses. Repeat offenders are more likely to be looking at jail time. And in many states, repeat petty theft offenses can enhance the penalty to a felony.

What is the lowest charge for theft? ›

The minimum type of theft charge is called, “Petty Larceny,” which means stealing something up to the value of $1,000. This frequently happens when people go places like departmental stores and take clothing, jewelry, or things of that nature.

What is one reason prosecutors may decide to dismiss cases? ›

Inadequate Proof of Guilt

The evidence must show that you are guilty of the offense for which you are being prosecuted. For this reason, your charges may be voluntarily dropped before trial if the prosecution determines there is inadequate evidence to proceed with a case against you.

How can theft be proven? ›

In most states, the statute that defines the requirements to prove the crime of receipt of stolen property consists of four elements: 1) the receipt of property that 2) was previously stolen, and the property was received by an individual who 3) knew that the property was stolen and 4) intended to permanently deprive ...

What percentage of theft is caught? ›

A good moment to stop shoplifters is as they leave the department or the store. However, only 5 to 10 percent of shoplifters are caught. Of those caught, only some are reported to the police and fewer are sentenced (usually to a fine).

How many years do you go to jail for stealing? ›

The maximum sentence for theft is seven years' custody.

How do you defend a theft case? ›

One common and effective defence to a theft charge is to argue that you did not have the mental intention required to be found guilty of this offence. That is, while you may have taken the goods in question, it is also possible that you did not have the fraudulent intent required to be guilty of theft.

Can you be charged with theft if the item is returned? ›

Unfortunately, returning a stolen item does not cancel out the intent to steal. While returning an item or asset shows remorse, you still stole the item to begin with which means you intended to break the law and proceeded to do so and keep the stolen item until you felt remorse.

How much is the bail for qualified theft? ›

Bail is the maximum penalty multiplied by 2,000 for Theft or Qualified Theft up to 600,000.

What makes a criminal case weak? ›

a lack of evidence, few or no credible witnesses, mistakes in the criminal complaint, and. a valid legal defense for the defendant.

What is the most common reason cases are rejected by prosecutors? ›

Insufficient evidence.

A prosecutor may drop a criminal charge if it is determined that the evidence against the accused isn't strong enough. Or, perhaps new evidence is found which undercuts the prosecution's case against the defendant.

Why do prosecutors sometimes choose not to prosecute? ›

Prosecutors are supposed to both enforce the law and "do justice." Doing justice means that a prosecutor occasionally decides not to prosecute a case (or files less severe charges) because the interests of justice require it, even if the facts of the case might support a conviction.

Is theft ever justifiable? ›

Stealing is a social phenomenon, therefore, its causes must be sought not in mental and personal states, but social foundations. Although stealing is a crime that leads to social injustice, there are rare instances where the action is justified, such as survival and social adaptation.

What is circumstantial evidence of theft? ›

In fact, most of the evidence used in criminal cases is circumstantial. Circumstantial evidence is proof of a fact or even a set of facts from which someone could infer the facts in question. For instance, a suspect in a crime was seen by a witness fleeing the scene on foot after a convenience store robbery.

What are the point to prove stealing? ›

The first is that the property in question must be capable of being stolen. A thing capable of being stolen must have ownership8 or possession, value, and it must be a movable property. The movable property capable of being stolen must be in existence.

Can you be dismissed for theft? ›

Theft is viewed by the courts as a serious disciplinary offence and normally justifies dismissal at first instance regardless of the value of the property involved.

What type of theft is most common? ›

Below we have laid out some of the most common types of theft and what the potential consequences may be.
  • Shoplifting. Shoplifting is considered the theft of goods from an open retail establishment. ...
  • Burglary. ...
  • Identity theft. ...
  • Grand Theft. ...
  • What Do You Do If You Are Charged With Theft?
Dec 28, 2020

What is the highest form of theft? ›

(Depending on the jurisdiction, the crime might be called "first degree" theft.) Laws in many states consider a theft to be grand theft when: The property taken is worth more than a minimum amount, perhaps $500-$1,000 or more. Property is taken directly from a person, but by means other than force or fear.

Do you get a criminal record for stealing? ›

Ultimately, a person caught shoplifting may be arrested and put on trial. A shoplifting conviction will result in a criminal record and a sentence. A police caution may be given as an alternative to prosecution. If accepted, this caution still comes with a criminal record.

What are the 5 elements of theft? ›

There are five elements under the Theft act (1968), Appropriation, Property and Belonging to another and for Mens Rea dishonestly, and with the intention of permanently depriving.

What court does theft go to? ›

“Either-way” offences – can be heard in magistrates' court or the Crown Court. These include cases such as theft, burglary and drug offences that can vary greatly in seriousness.

Are there any Defences to theft? ›

The available defences against a theft charge will depend on the circumstances, but may include: Mistaken identity – i.e. you were not involved in the theft. You did not intend to permanently deprive the victim of the item stolen – and therefore the offence does not count as theft.

What are the 4 elements of theft? ›

The elements of theft consists of: 1) an act of appropriation; 2) a certain type of property; 3) unlawfulness; 4) intention, including an intention to appropriate.

What do you do in case of theft? ›

1. File an FIR. Once you find out that your car is stolen, the first thing you need to do is file an FIR (First Information Report) at your local police station. The police will ask for relevant details to register a complaint.

What happens if you steal but give it back? ›

Returning an Item Due to Remorse

Because intent is present, it is entirely possible to prosecute a person for stealing an item they later return. The return is irrelevant to the charges. The person took the item on purpose and permanently, and that is all the prosecution needs to know to seek justice.

What should you not do when shoplifting? ›

Things to Avoid Doing When Accused of Shoplifting
  1. Don't attempt to pay for the item after the fact. ...
  2. Don't provide any personal information to store employees. ...
  3. Don't make any statements to store employees, managers, or security guards. ...
  4. Don't sign any documents at the store.

Can you get in trouble for returning a used item? ›

Can you be arrested for returning a used item of clothing to a store? The short answer is – yes, it is possible.

How do I get bail in theft case? ›

You musttake the help of a criminal lawyer for your bail matter. In order to get bailin a bailable offense, the suspect has to submit Form- 45 given in the Second Schedule to the court in which his case is being heard. The bail cannot be granted without the court's approval.

Is theft bailable or non bailable? ›

Theft is a crime in India and the person committing theft is punished with jail time of up to 3 years and/or a fine. Theft is a cognizable and non-bailable offence.

What documents are needed for bail? ›

This section provides, among others, that the original papers required for bail shall bear the full name and address of the accused, the amount of the undertaking, the conditions required by the said section, and the photographs taken within the last six (6) months showing the face, the left and right profiles of the ...

What is a good punishment for a child that steals? ›

Frame the consequence, such as loss of screen time, as the result of the choice a child made, so that they connect their actions to this negative outcome, says Dr. Lavin. An older child may have to do extra chores to earn money to pay someone back for stolen goods.

Is stealing over $500 dollars a felony in Missouri? ›

Stealing is a Class D felony offense, with a maximum prison sentence of seven years and a $10,000 fine, when the value of the stolen property is between $750 and $25,000 or if the person physically takes the property from its owner.

What is guilty of theft? ›

In legislation “a person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.” This could mean someone stealing from a shop, picking someone's pocket, stealing a bicycle or car, an employee stealing from their workplace or a guest ...

What happens when a kid gets caught stealing? ›

If you're caught shoplifting and the store decides to press charges, the store may legally detain you for a short period of time until law enforcement arrives and takes further action. The crime is usually regarded as an “act of delinquency” if committed by a minor and therefore must be handled in juvenile court.

Can stealing be genetic? ›

Genetics. Experts don't know if a person can inherit kleptomania or if a family history raises your risk of having it. While people with kleptomania often have a family history of other mental health conditions — especially anxiety, mood and substance use disorders — there's no firm evidence that it's genetic.

How do you get someone to admit they stole something? ›

Play Good Cop
  1. Be reassuring. Let them know what they did is understandable. ...
  2. Minimize consequences. What will happen if they confess?
  3. The release. Explain that after divulging information, they will come out better—either be a better person, have a better outcome, or just feel relieved.
  4. Show agreeability.

Can a Class D felony be reduced to a misdemeanor in Missouri? ›

A felony charge can be dropped to a misdemeanor charge through a plea bargain, mistake found by the arresting officer or investigations, or by good behavior if probation was sentenced for the crime.

How much is grand theft in Missouri? ›

The offense of stealing is a class C felony if the value of the property or services appropriated is twenty-five thousand dollars or more.

What is stealing $750 or more in Missouri? ›

The offense of stealing is a class D felony if: The value of the property or services appropriated is $750 or more; The offender physically takes the property from the person of the victim; or.

What are the 4 types of stealing? ›

Under these two main categories, there are many different types of theft, including embezzlement, shoplifting, fraud, and robbery. While all of these crimes have the same basic elements, they also have slight variations and different possible punishments if you are found guilty.

What happens if you don't get caught stealing? ›

Even if you successfully shoplift and exit the store without being caught, you can still be arrested. When there is missing inventory or if something distinctive is gone from the shelves, businesses may review security footage.


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