In criminal law, theft is defined as the illegal taking of a person’s property or services without his/her consent. The term theft is also used to refer to a crime against property such as larceny, robbery, looting, shoplifting, fraud and burglary.
An act of depriving another person of his property constitutes theft only if there is a guilty act and guilty metal state involved in the commission of the crime. The guilty act is the unauthorized taking, keeping or using of another’s property. The guilty mental is the dishonest intent to permanently deprive the owner of his/her property. There must be an element of dishonesty which may be revealed from the words or actions of the perpetrator. Without proof of intent to deprive, no criminal act has occurred. A person commits the crime of theft of property if he/she:
- Knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over the property of another, with intent to deprive the owner of his/her property;
- Knowingly obtains by deception control over the property of another, with intent to deprive the owner of his/her property; or
- Knowingly obtains or exerts control over property in the custody of a law enforcement agency which was explicitly represented to the person by an agent of the law enforcement agency as being stolen.
Theft is often classified into degrees of misdemeanors or felonies carrying varied penalties according to the value of the item stolen. State laws governing the offense of theft vary. In the U.S., most of the thefts are prosecuted by the state in which the theft occurred. However, the federal government also criminalizes certain categories of theft which directly affect federal agencies or interstate commerce.