If you’ve been charged with theft in Missouri, you’re likely feeling a lot of emotions and you’re not sure what to do next. In many cases, a theft charge comes with a sense of shame, defensiveness (because you had no other option), anger at yourself or those who caught you or persuaded you to steal with them. At this stage, it’s vital that you understand exactly what your theft charge means for you, and what next steps you need to take to move forward with your life.
This guide will take you through everything you need to know about your charge (whether falsely accused or not), answer common questions we hear from the accused, and guide you on your next steps.
There are a large number of different theft crime charges with a range of possible punishments and future impact on your life. The St. Louis theft lawyers at Combs Waterkotte are here to help. Call us now at (314) 900-HELP or contact us online.
What Constitutes Theft in Missouri?
Missouri defines theft as taking the property or service of another without the owner’s consent, with the intent to deprive the owner, or by deceit or coercion. Essentially, if you take something you don’t own or refuse to pay for services rendered, you are committing theft.
The Different Types of Theft Crime
There is a range of different theft crimes which vary in severity depending on the circumstances of the theft. Some of these crimes are classed as misdemeanors (less serious crimes) and others are felonies (serious crimes).
Theft is the umbrella term for any form of stealing property or services from another person, as outlined above, and encompasses any situation that does not fit into the categories below.
Larceny simply defines when someone steals the personal property of another.
Burglary in Missouri is defined as a person entering a building with the intent to steal. Most burglary crimes are class C felonies, but if the offender is armed, threatens or causes injury, or if there is an innocent person within the structure, it is a class B felony.
Robbery is when the offender forcibly steals from another person and is a class B felony. However, if they threaten the other person with something that is, or appears to be, a weapon, or actually causes injury, it a class A felony.
Bank robbery comes with much harsher punishments than a ‘normal’ robbery because it is federally owned and therefore you are stealing from the government. Federal crimes are more serious than the same crime against a citizen, and any threat against the bank workers with the intent to steal from it will constitute bank robbery.
All bank robbery charges will be a class A felony, and therefore you may face up to 30 years in prison, and worse if there are additional charges held against you. If you knowingly accept anything stolen from a bank you will be fined and can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.
Shoplifting occurs when the offender steals something from a place of business. Most occurrences of shoplifting will be a class A misdemeanor as the value of the stolen property will likely be $500 or below.
Anyone who steals merchandise (anything for sale) from a Missouri store is, in addition to any misdemeanor or felony charges, responsible for the full retail value of anything taken, any incidental costs of up to $100, a penalty to the owner of $100-$250, and any and all court costs and attorney fees incurred by the owner. If the person is a minor, their parental guardian is then responsible.
Theft of a firearm in Missouri is automatically a class C felony, due to the associated dangers and implications of a stolen firearm. A class C felony automatically lands you with at least 12 months imprisonment.
Grand Theft Auto (Vehicle Tampering)
Auto theft is defined as taking a vehicle owned by another, without the owner’s consent, by means of deceit or coercion. Motor vehicle theft can be more complicated than other forms of theft because there are four ‘elements’ that must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt (or admitted to) before the offender can be convicted.
The first element of auto theft is ‘appropriation of a motor vehicle’, which means the prosecution must prove that the offender took possession of the vehicle without the owner’s consent.
The second element is that it must be proved that the vehicle was not legally owned by the offender when they took the vehicle.
The third element is that it must be proved that the offender had ‘intent to deprive the owner of the vehicle’, and had no intention of returning the vehicle.
The fourth element is that the offender must have taken the car without the permission of the owner, and without coercing or deceiving them to do so. If the offender coerced or deceived the owner, the prosecution must show how this was the case.
Stealing a car in Missouri is automatically a class C felony, regardless of the value of the vehicle, which is punishable by a minimum of 12 months in prison.
Federal theft is when you are deemed to have stolen something from the government. Most federal theft applies to those working for the government and maybe a charge like failing to deposit money to the treasurer, misuse of public funds, theft of vehicles transporting commerce between states, and theft of government property.
Check fraud is when you give or cash a check you forged, or that is on a bank account you know has insufficient funds (and will therefore bounce). Check fraud, for a value of $500 or less, is a class A misdemeanor, and if over $500 it can be as severe as a class C felony.
What makes a theft crime a misdemeanor or a felony?
Some crimes are a felony regardless of any other circumstances, due to the severity of the crime (such as stealing a firearm), while others only warrant a misdemeanor. In general, the charges are as follows:
- Class A Misdemeanor: a class A misdemeanor theft is when the value of the property or services stolen is less than $500. Being given stolen property worth less than $500 is also a class A misdemeanor. Any theft crime that does not fit into any other category will also warrant a class A misdemeanor. The maximum penalty for a class A misdemeanor is one-year imprisonment and a fine of $1,000.
- Class D Felony: it is a class D felony when someone steals an animal, or, if the offender has had two or more theft-related convictions within the last 10 years. The maximum punishment for a class D felony is a four-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $5,000, or an amount of up to twice the value of what the offender gained from the theft, up to $20,000.
- Class C Felony: Theft is a class C felony if the value of the property or service is more than $500, but less than $25,000, if the item was stolen from the owner’s person, or if it is a vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, firearm (regardless of worth), explosive, credit card, US flag, legal or historical documents, livestock or wildlife, will, property deed, controlled substance, chemicals that can be used to make illegal substances. It is also a class C felony to receive stolen explosives, receive something stolen if they are a dealer of the stolen good or substance involved, or worth more than $500. The maximum penalty for a class C felony is a prison term of 7 years (and no less than 12 months), a fine of $5,000, or double the value of the stolen property up to $20,000 if it was sold on.
- Class B Felony: Theft is a class B felony if the stolen property or service is worth $25,000 or more. The maximum punishment for a class B felony is a prison term of 15 years (and no less than 5 years).
- Class A Felony: Theft can only become a class A felony if the offender harms or threatens another person. The maximum punishment for a class A felony is a 30-year prison sentence (and no less than 10 years), and there are usually no fines included.
What’s the difference between theft, larceny, burglary, and robbery?
Theft is the umbrella term that covers any form of stealing from anyone or any entity. Larceny is the term used to describe the theft of personal property (e.g. not commercial or federal property). Burglary is theft from a residence or structure, and robbery is any theft where there is an innocent person who is threatened or harmed in the process.
Can you be charged with more than one kind of theft?
Yes, for example, if you rob a bank and then steal a car for your getaway, you will be charged for both occurrences. It’s not uncommon to see both state and federal theft charges filed in the same crime. If you are facing multiple types of charges then it’s even more critical you get legal representation.
Is it better to be charged with one type of theft crime over the others?
Yes, for example, a robbery charge will nearly always be more severe than a larceny charge, so where possible your criminal defense lawyer will work to get your charge reduced so you can avoid harsher punishments.
I’ve been falsely accused of theft, what should I do?
If you have been falsely accused of theft it’s vital you get an experienced criminal lawyer who knows theft and robbery charges on your side as soon as possible. If you’ve been accused or charged with theft wrongly, you need a lawyer who knows the law and can put together the best strategy to prove your innocence. Unfortunately, the wrongly accused are sometimes convicted of the crimes they didn’t commit, so don’t leave it to fate.
Why It’s Important to Fight a Theft Conviction
If a theft charge is minor, you may think that it would be easier to take the conviction in stride, pay the fine, and move on with your life, but it’s important to think about the long-term implications of a theft conviction.
Of course, theft very quickly becomes a felony charge here in Missouri, and a felony is a very serious matter. Of course, even a theft misdemeanor on your record may make you an unattractive prospect to potential employers who will feel unable to trust you, and future landlords will feel the same, leaving you jobless, potentially homeless, and in worst-case scenarios, unable to feed yourself and your family.
You may think that a simple theft charge cannot ruin your life, but we’ve seen it happen and we fight to protect our clients’ liberty every day. Take your charge seriously and do everything within your power to fight the charges; get an experienced St. Louis criminal defense attorney on your case as soon as possible.
Hire the Best Missouri Criminal Defense Attorney
No matter your individual circumstances, if you’ve been accused of theft, you need to get a great criminal defense attorney on your side as soon as possible. The legal system can be confusing and intimidating, and as we covered in the section above, a conviction (wrongful or otherwise) can completely derail your life.
All our clients have access to their lawyer 24/7, we offer completely free consultations, and we get back to most inquiries within 2 hours – so you don’t need to worry for days about what’s going to happen next. Contact us today to get one of the best St. Louis criminal defense lawyers on your case.