Larceny and theft are two terms that are often used interchangeably. Buzzle does a larceny vs. theft comparison to unfold the relationship between both these terms that denote the crime of stealing.
*According to FBI statistics in 2013, an estimated 1,231,580 arrests were made for larceny-thefts.
If larceny is defined as ‘The unauthorized taking and removal of personal property of another by an individual who intends to permanently deprive the owner of it’; theft is ‘The dishonest taking of property belonging to another person with the intention of depriving the owner permanently of its possession’. There is hardly any difference between these two terms that mean more or less the same thing. In fact, the term larceny is derived from the Anglo-Norman word ‘larcin’, which means theft.
Brief History of Larceny and Theft
Larceny and theft are terms that denote the same offense. In order to understand the difference between these terms, we have to go through the history of the offense termed as theft. The origin of statutory laws of theft can be traced back to a time when the bounds of property were established. In England, such statutory laws existed right from the seventeenth century. At that time, the offense was termed larceny, which was divided into several types.
The laws of larceny included only those actions that consisted of felonious taking and carrying away of the personal goods of another. Such laws did not cover instances like embezzlement or fraud. So, new offenses like false pretenses, embezzlement, etc., were formulated. The offense of larceny was classified into grand and petit forms, on the basis of the value of the stolen property.
However, these laws struggled to deal with the increasing demands of the growing society. So, the changing social conditions and social interests led to the formulation of the law of theft, which is a collective term that encompasses different types of property crimes, including larceny.
Larceny was a common law crime in the United Kingdom and some other countries. However, it was abolished in England in 1969. Now, the offense has been replaced with the broader term ‘theft’, which also includes specific offenses like robbery, burglary, etc. However, there are some countries (like the U.S. and Australia) where the common law term is still used. In the United States, the offense is either replaced by or merged with ‘theft’ statutes.
The laws related to larceny and theft may vary from one state to another. Some states no longer use the term larceny, and laws related to the offense have been replaced by theft statutes. You may also find the offense incorporated into the statutes of some jurisdictions. While the law of California has replaced larceny with the term theft, Connecticut laws have six degrees of larceny. So, the definition, scope, and ambit of this offense may not be the same in all jurisdictions.
Elements of Larceny
In general, larceny is often described as forceless or non-violent theft. The crime is defined as ‘The unauthorized taking and removal of the personal property of another by an individual who intends to permanently deprive the owner of it’. So, the main elements that constitute this offense include: (a) unauthorized or unlawful taking and carrying away; (a) of someone else’s personal property; (c) without the consent of the owner of the property; and (d) with the intent of depriving the owner of the property permanently. Examples of larceny include pickpocketing, shoplifting, stealing bicycles, stealing from motor vehicles, etc.
The property must be taken illegally from its owner. The person who takes the property must carry it away (this is not a requirement in some states). The property must belong to another person, and the offender must take it without the consent of the former. The intent of the offender must be to deprive the owner of the property permanently. He must not take the property with the intent of returning it later. The stolen property must have some value. If the value is below a particular amount (may vary from one state to another), it amounts to petit larceny; and if the value exceeds that figure, it amounts to grand larceny. In some jurisdictions, these offenses are classified as misdemeanors and felonies, according to the severity of the offense. The offense may also be classified into different degrees.
The penal law of New York recognizes eight degrees of larceny, which are classified into two types – petty and grand. If the value of stolen property exceeds $1,000, the offense amounts to petty larceny, and stealing a property with a value that exceeds $1,000 amounts to grand larceny. However, robbery is treated as a separate crime.
Punishment for petty larceny includes a fine of up to $1,000 and a maximum imprisonment of one year. Punishment for grand larceny includes a fine of more than $25,000 and an imprisonment term of 4 to 25 years.
Elements of Theft
As mentioned above, theft is a broad term that encompasses different types of property crimes with varying degrees of severity. In general, the crime is defined as follows: The dishonest taking of property belonging to another person with the intention of depriving the owner permanently of its possession. If a person takes money, property, services, or other types of property with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of the property, such an action amounts to theft. The elements of this crime include taking and removing a property that belongs to another, and the specific intent to take another’s property for personal use or for selling.
Degrees of Theft: The main factors of this crime include the type of stolen property and its value. The severity of the crime is directly proportional to the value of the stolen property. Stealing a property with a low value may amount to a theft of third degree, according to some state laws. If the value of the stolen property is above the stipulated amount (as given in the statute), that amounts to second-degree theft. Stealing high-value goods amounts to first-degree theft, which is treated as a felony. In some states, the crime is classified as petit (considered as misdemeanors) and grand theft (treated as felonies), based on the value of stolen property. For example, stealing of property with a value above $950 is considered grand theft in California. Classification may be made on the basis of the type of stolen property or the method of stealing. For example, ‘grand theft auto’ is a separate category that deals with stealing of cars.
The use of physical force while stealing a property amounts to the crime of robbery, which is a serious form of theft. If the crime is accompanied with unlawful entry, it is called burglary. There are various other specific types of this crime, like embezzlement, identity theft, receiving stolen property, piracy, etc. The nature of classification and the quantum of punishment may vary from one jurisdiction to another. For example, punishment for petty theft in California may include a fine of up to $1,000 and an imprisonment term of up to six months. For grand theft, the term of imprisonment may range between one to three years.
In short, both the terms refer to the same offense. The difference between larceny and theft arises from the nature of their use in the penal laws of different states. The common law crime dealt with stealing of tangible property, whereas, theft is about stealing of both tangible and intangible property. Nowadays, the term theft is more commonly used in place of larceny. However, the common law term is still in use in certain jurisdictions, where it denotes the crime of theft. The specific forms of theft can be found as separate crimes in some jurisdictions.
*The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program defines larceny-theft as the unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession or constructive possession of another. Examples are thefts of bicycles, motor vehicle parts and accessories, shoplifting, pocket-picking, or the stealing of any property or article that is not taken by force and violence or by fraud. Attempted larcenies are included. Embezzlement, confidence games, forgery, check fraud, etc., are excluded.