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By Michael Arbeit
Founding Attorney

Theft, commonly defined as the unauthorized taking of another person’s property with the intent to permanently deprive them of it, is prevalent in Long Island and other parts of New York. The category of theft encompasses a range of offenses, including petit (or petty) larceny, grand larceny, burglary, and robbery, each distinguished by factors such as the value of the stolen property and the circumstances of the crime. This wide range of theft-related crimes reflects the complexity of the issue. New York law enforces strict penalties for theft, which escalate with the severity of the offense.

Types Of Theft Charges In New York, As Well As The Penalties And Consequences Involved

In New York, theft charges can be classified under various offenses, generally categorized as “larceny.” Theft is the unlawful taking, obtaining, or withholding of someone else’s property with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently or for an extended period. The New York Penal Law outlines several forms of theft, including petit larceny and grand larceny, which differ based on the property’s value and other specific circumstances. 

  • Petit Larceny: Petit larceny, classified under Penal Law § 155.25, is the theft of property valued at no more than $1,000. It is considered a misdemeanor offense. Conviction can result in penalties, including up to one year in jail, probation, fines, and restitution.
  • Grand Larceny: Grand larceny is more severe and is classified into four degrees, depending on the value of the stolen property and other specific circumstances, such as how the property was stolen or the type of property taken.
  • 1) Fourth Degree Grand Larceny (Penal Law § 155.30) involves property valued at more than $1,000 but not exceeding $3,000 or property of any value taken under certain conditions (for example, directly from a person or certain types of property like credit cards or firearms).
  • 2) Third Degree Grand Larceny (Penal Law § 155.35) involves property valued at over $3,000 but not exceeding $50,000. 
  • 3) Second Degree Grand Larceny (Penal Law § 155.40) involves property valued at over $50,000 but not exceeding $1 million. 
  • 4) First-degree grand Larceny (Penal Law § 155.42) involves property valued at more than $1 million. 

The penalties for grand larceny can include several years to decades in prison, significant fines, probation, and restitution. The severity of the penalty typically correlates with the degree of the offense and the value of the property stolen. The long-term consequences can include a criminal record and difficulty obtaining employment.

Specific theft methods, such as embezzlement, extortion, or the possession of stolen property, can also influence theft charges. Additional factors that might impact the severity of charges and penalties include the accused’s criminal history, the use of force or weapons during the theft, and whether the victim is a vulnerable individual or entity. 

Defenses To Theft Charges

An attorney can argue several defenses when their client is charged with theft. The applicability and effectiveness of these defenses depend on the case’s specifics, including the evidence available, the nature of the alleged theft, and the circumstances under which the incident occurred. Here are some of the most common defenses:

  • Lack of Intent: To be convicted of a theft crime, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of their property unlawfully. If the defendant can show no intent to steal, for example, if they believed the property was theirs or were taking it by mistake, this can be a strong defense.
  • Claim of Right or Ownership: If the defendant genuinely believed that they had a right to the property or that the property belonged to them, this belief can be used as a defense against theft charges. This defense requires proving that the defendant genuinely believed it belonged to them and this belief was reasonable under the circumstances.
  • Consent: If the defendant can demonstrate that they had permission from the rightful owner to take the property, this can negate allegations of theft. For this defense to be valid, the owner must give consent freely and knowingly.
  • Duress or Coercion: A defendant may argue that they were forced to commit the theft under threat of harm to themselves or someone else. This defense acknowledges the act but disputes the voluntariness of the defendant’s actions.
  • Entrapment: Entrapment occurs when law enforcement officers or agents induce someone to commit a crime they would not have otherwise committed. If a defendant can show that they were not predisposed to commit the crime and only did so because of law enforcement’s persuasion or coercion, they might use entrapment as a defense.
  • Insanity or Mental Disorder: Although difficult to prove, a defendant might argue that they were not mentally capable of understanding their actions or distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the theft due to a mental disorder or insanity.
  • Mistake of Fact: This defense applies when a defendant mistakenly believes a fact that, if true, would mean the act was not a crime. For example, taking someone else’s bag by mistake, thinking it was theirs.
  • Return of Property: While not a complete defense, demonstrating that the accused made efforts to return the stolen property might mitigate the situation or influence the severity of the penalties.
  • Procedural Defenses: In New York, procedural defenses against theft charges may include arguing lack of probable cause for arrest, violation of the right to a speedy trial, improper handling or chain of custody of evidence, failure to inform the accused defendant of their Miranda rights or the exclusion of evidence obtained through unlawful search and seizure. These defenses focus on ensuring the authorities followed the correct legal procedure and that the defendant’s constitutional rights were protected throughout the criminal justice process.

It is important to note that the effectiveness of these defenses depends on the evidence and how convincingly the defense attorney presents this evidence in court. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to advise on the best strategy based on the case’s specifics.


Given the complexity of theft laws and the severity of potential penalties, individuals facing theft charges in New York should seek legal advice to understand the charges against them and to formulate an appropriate defense. The law firm of Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. has the criminal defense experience necessary to handle the strategy involving theft crimes and will figure out the best way to provide a defense for you. Contact our office today.

About the Author
Michael A. Arbeit, P.C. is devoted to all Criminal Defense and  Traffic related matters.  Michael practices primarily in the Criminal and County (Supreme) Courts in Nassau County, Suffolk County, Queens County, Kings County, New York County and the Bronx County.  Michael is also licensed to practice law in the Federal Courts of the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) and the Southern District of New York (SDNY).