People will often dismiss petty theft and shoplifting as insignificant crimes. It’s easy to understand why: by definition, petty theft involves taking objects of very little value. But the consequences of petty theft in Colorado can be significant.
Jeffrey Weeden is a criminal defense attorney serving the Denver area. In this post, Mr. Weeden will explain Colorado’s petty theft and shoplifting laws, as well as the potential consequences of petty theft charges. Mr. Weeden will also explain the difference between petty theft and shoplifting in Colorado. Though the two share common elements, they are different.
Petty Theft vs. Shoplifting
The main difference between petty theft and shoplifting is that the laws tailor shoplifting to only apply to theft from a store. The term, petty theft, applies to theft from a private person.
By definition, petty theft is the taking of something whose value is at or below a specified dollar amount. In Colorado, that dollar amount is $500.
If the item’s value is more than $500, the crime is “grand” larceny.
In order to convict a defendant of petty theft, the prosecutor must convince a judge and jury of the following:
The other party had a “possessory interest” in the taken item
This would mean that the other party had a right to possess the item. They don’t necessarily have to own the item. But most of the time, this person will both own and possess the item.
Not always, though: if John is borrowing a bicycle from Mark, and someone steals the bicycle from John, they have not stolen from Mark. They have stolen from John because he had a possessory interest in the bike.
So the first thing the prosecution must prove is that the person from whom the defendant stole the item had a possessory interest in the item.
The property was “taken away”
Petty theft requires that the defendant move the item from its original place by the defendant. The movement does not have to be large; it could entail picking the item up.
This is the traditional interpretation of the law. Contemporary interpretation do away with the concept of moving the item. Typically, they only insist that the defendant exercised control over the item.
The other party did not agree to the taking
In most cases, this element is pretty obvious. Taking something through deception or deceit also satisfies this element. This would apply when a person tells someone they will return the item, intending from the outset to keep it.
This is not the same as truly intending to return the item and simply failing to do so.
The defendant intended to permanently deprive the other party of their property
The prosecutor must show that at the time the defendant took the item, they did not intend to return it. It is not necessary to show that the defendant never got the item back. It depends on the defendant’s state of mind at the time.
Taking something under circumstances that make it unlikely the defendant will return the item qualifies as a taking. For example, taking a bike and hiding it in the woods where no one would find it qualifies as intention to permanently deprive the other party of the bike.
Shoplifting is a form of petty theft. It is specific to items the defendant takes from a store. Each element of petty theft from above still applies to shoplifting, with some extra particulars. For instance:
- The shoplifter does not need to leave the store without paying to commit shoplifting. Even the slightest movement consistent with an intention to steal is sufficient. Placing the item under one’s clothing, or hiding it inside another item, are enough of a “taking” to constitute theft.
- A shoplifter’s willingness to pay for an item after the police apprehend them will not defeat a charge of shoplifting. As long as the defendant intended to take the item without paying at the time, they have shoplifted.
- A person can commit shoplifting by altering or removing price tags. These acts illustrate an intention to take money from the merchant.
Establishing the Value of the Item Stolen
For shoplifting and petty theft, the crime will become grand theft if the item or merchandise is worth more than $500.
For shoplifting, when the defendant takes things from stores, establishing a value is easy. That may not be the case with petty theft of personal property.
For example, what is the value of your two-year-old leather jacket? Or your father’s briefcase that has high sentimental value for you?
In general, courts will determine value based on what the item would fetch on the open market. The courts may establish the value of the leather jacket by comparing it to other jackets. The same goes for the well-loved briefcase. The dollar value does not include the sentimental value you place on the briefcase.
Penalties for Petty Theft and Shoplifting
Petty theft and shoplifting are misdemeanors. This means that defendants face the possibility of jail time (not state prison) of up to one year or less. It could also mean a fine of up to one or two thousand dollars.
Depending on the circumstances, some first-time offenders can undergo “diversion”. This is a court-supervised program where the defendant performs community service, undergoes counseling, and remains arrest-free for a period of time. The courts will dismiss the charges of anyone who successfully completes the program.
Penalties for petty theft can become much more serious if the defendant has a prior conviction for the same offense. The state of Colorado can charge these repeat offenders with a felony, “petty with a prior”. Felonies carry the possibility of time in state prison.
If you or someone you love is facing petty theft charges in the Denver area, they need immediate legal representation. Jeffrey Weeden is a dedicated and aggressive advocate for his clients.