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Old 01-23-2020, 01:54 PM
Leo Bloom is offline
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US law/Brit equivalents: what is the difference between theft and larceny+/- "grand")?


See query. An oldie no doubt, but I was thinking about a popular computer game, "Grand theft auto," and realized I had no idea what that means, except for "stealing a car." I'm coming from being aware of the concept of plain old "stealing," which I do not believe is narrow enough for law.


Two, out of many, counter examples:

Is there "grand theft wallet"--eg a huge amount of cash a person's pants pocket, ie, directly from a person (not off the street)?

Is there "grand theft file cabinet"--which I believe is the crime "burglary," meaning no person-to-person contact, without violence or the threat of violence.

Is it something with civil law vs criminal law? Stealing millions with a pen through fraud--- that's a crime of fraud, but never a charge of theft..or is it? I can't get that distinction through my head, although I do understand that a rational jurisprudence must have its distinctions.

Easily Googleable, I'm sure, but can someone one-sentence answer these for me, with perhaps an additional sentence or two on reasoning?
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Old 01-23-2020, 02:19 PM
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It's "grand theft" as opposed to "petty theft" and is mostly a matter of degree. "Petty theft" is usually something of a small amount and a misdemeanor, whereas "grand theft" might be a felony. The law in your jurisdiction may not make this distinction, but rather just classify different types of theft as particular classes of misdemeanor or felony (Texas does this), but "grand theft" is still a generally understood term.

NoLo.com offers up this:

Quote:
Laws in many states consider a theft to be grand theft when:

The property taken is worth more than a minimum amount, perhaps $500-$1,000 or more.
Property is taken directly from a person, but by means other than force or fear. (If force or fear were used, the crime would be robbery.) An example would be picking the pocket of an unsuspecting victim.
Particular types of property are taken. For example, the theft of cars and some types of animals is often grand theft regardless of their actual market value.
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Old 01-23-2020, 02:29 PM
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From cite above:
Quote:
For example, the theft of cars and some types of animals is often grand theft regardless of their actual market value.
Thanks. This is exactly (part) of my questioning the "logic" with the "huge amount of cash in a wallet" eg.

Anything on "larceny?"

And, I don't know, petty fraud (small claims court) vs colossal $ fraud--there, there is no "grand" distinction, right? Anything under $x is small claims, and the crime charged/adjudicated is always the same? Which is what, for the publ8c record? (I've never had the misfortune to wind up there, luckily.)
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Old 01-23-2020, 02:57 PM
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Larceny is just another word for theft-my state's penal law does not contain either petty (petit) or grand theft - it's either "petit larceny" or "grand larceny" if the stolen property is worth more than one thousand dollars
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Old 01-23-2020, 03:04 PM
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Holy crap!
Did the word "petty" come from the French word "petit"? They are pronounced the same, right?

I'm very amused by this.
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Old 01-23-2020, 03:12 PM
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What a particular jurisdiction calls any given crime is just variants in word usage and is often based off archaic language, there's not a universal standard, so talking about what the exact words requires either generalizing or looking at a specific location's laws. Larceny was originally a common law crime in the UK, and has since been abandoned there in favor of specific crimes (theft, fraud, robbery). For the most part, larceny is a general term for 'taking someone else's stuff with intent to keep it permanently' and theft is 'larceny without other stuff tacked on', and they probably mean the same general thing when you come across them. Theft/larceny is distinct from robbery, 'taking someone else's stuff using force or threat of force with intent to keep it', burglary 'taking someone else's stuff by breaking into their property with intent to keep it' or fraud 'taking someone else's stuff using deception with intent to keep it'. The 'intent to keep it' distinguishes theft or larceny from crimes like joyriding or trespass, where you take something that's not yours but the intent is to just keep it temporarily and give it back when you're done.

Grand vs 'unmodified' or 'petty' theft/larceny/fraud/robbery/etc. is usually the distinction between a felony or midemeanor. Typically the difference is set out by a dollar value in a statute, and sometimes depends on the nature of goods stolen - stealing a firearm might automatically be grand theft regardless of its value, while stealing medicine might have a lower dollar amount to become grand than general goods. Since vehicles are fairly distinct from other types of property, they are often called out in laws around stealing.

The term "Grand theft auto" was popularized by the game doesn't actually appear in California's penal code AFAIK, but is a shorthand used by CA police and for brevity in CA court records. Various cities, states, counties, police forces, etc. will have different things that they use as shorthand, and what they use depends on practical factors. Stealing cars requires a different police response than stealing other items and is a fairly common crime, while stealing filing cabinets is not that common and doesn't require special handling so there's no reason to use a phrase like "Grand Theft Filing Cabinet", it would likely be just something like "Grand theft"

Fraud is generally a crime, and usually follows a similar dollar value distinction to theft or larceny. Small claims court is not a criminal court, small claims court is solely for civil cases that involve a small dollar amount, and the amount will vary from case to case. In most cases involving stealing, the state will pursue a criminal case charging the person with the crime of theft, and the victim will pursue a civil case seeking compensation for the stolen property. They are two separate but related legal actions. That is, if you defrauded me for $500 you might be guilty of the crime of 'petty fraud' and the DA would charge that as a crime, seeking to put you in jail, while I would have a civil action to recover the $500 plus any additional damages, which would probably be small enough to happen in small claims court.
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Old 01-23-2020, 04:29 PM
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Thanks Pan, and all posters.
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Old 01-23-2020, 05:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Pantastic View Post
The 'intent to keep it' distinguishes theft or larceny from crimes like joyriding or trespass, where you take something that's not yours but the intent is to just keep it temporarily and give it back when you're done.
"The intent to keep it" also distinguished theft from "conversion" (using land, money which doesn't belong to you without the intention of theft), which I was recently surprised to find is not currently a crime almost anywhere. From my reading, 'conversion' was a common-law crime, not used much in the courts, which disappeared when, as part of legal reform, common law offenses were eliminated and replaced with statutory offenses. Stuff like "borrowing the client's money with the intention of returning it before they noticed" is now covered by other laws.
  #9  
Old 01-23-2020, 06:02 PM
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The English legal system is trying to move away from obscure words like 'larceny' which gets tossed around a lot but few people know what it actually means to lawyers. Thus you will hear 'complainant' rather than 'plaintiff' and 'child' instead of 'minor' and 'discovery' doesn't get used at all here, in the archaic sense of 'revealing all the information in your possession, to dis-cover' that Samuel Pepy's diary uses it. Latin is also being removed.
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Old 01-23-2020, 06:05 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Melbourne View Post
"The intent to keep it" also distinguished theft from "conversion" (using land, money which doesn't belong to you without the intention of theft), which I was recently surprised to find is not currently a crime almost anywhere. From my reading, 'conversion' was a common-law crime, not used much in the courts, which disappeared when, as part of legal reform, common law offenses were eliminated and replaced with statutory offenses. Stuff like "borrowing the client's money with the intention of returning it before they noticed" is now covered by other laws.
'Taking and driving away, a motor vehicle' or 'taking without owners consent a motor vehicle' are the two offences used here, as both sidestep the requirement under the Theft Act 1968 to prove an intention to 'permanently deprive the owner of his property'
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Old 01-23-2020, 08:16 PM
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Originally Posted by sachertorte View Post
Holy crap!
Did the word "petty" come from the French word "petit"? They are pronounced the same, right?
Yes, it comes from French. No, they're not pronounced the same - they are very differently stressed.

"Grand", of course, also comes from the French word "grand". (They are not pronounced the same either.)

"Theft" is Anglo-Saxon. "Larceny" is from the Norman-French word for theft.
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Old 01-24-2020, 11:26 AM
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Also, IIRC, the terms in Canadian law were "theft over $50" back in the day. This has been updated over the years, and today IIRC the charge is "...over $5000".
Quote:
In Canada, theft charges fall into two categories: theft over $5000.00 and theft under $5000.00.

Theft over $5000.00 is the more serious of the two charges and it is a straight indictable offence for which you can face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Theft under $5000.00 is a hybrid offence which means that the Crown will be able to choose to prosecute you either summarily or by indictment. If the Crown chooses to prosecute you by indictment, they will likely be seeking jail time. Even if the Crown chooses to prosecute you summarily, you can still face up to 6 months in jail if you are convicted of theft under $5000.00.

Whether you are being charged summarily or by indictment, your theft charges will be taken seriously by the Crown. Unfortunately, many people mistakenly believe that their charges will simply be dropped because they did not steal anything of great value. This is simply not the case. Even if you are first-time offender and you have been charged with stealing goods of very little value, if you are convicted of theft in Canada you will end up with a criminal record.
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Old 01-24-2020, 01:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pantastic View Post
burglary 'taking someone else's stuff by breaking into their property with intent to keep it'
*snip. Nitpick.

At common law burglary was the breaking and entering of a dwelling house at night with the intent to commit a felony or larceny inside. It doesn't have to be a theft; it can be any felony.

My state defines it as the breaking and entering of a dwelling house with the intent to commit any crime inside.

This trips up many of my clients who cannot keep their traps shut. Say their friend has been sleeping with their SO and they decide to kick down the friend's door and beat him up. When the client is told that he is being charged with burglary he inevitably (confesses) states that he "didn't steal anything! I just went in to kick his ass!"

Congrats, bud, you just confessed to burglary.
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Old 01-24-2020, 07:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mk VII View Post
Thus you will hear 'complainant' rather than 'plaintiff' and 'child' instead of 'minor' ...
«Child» instead of «minor» strikes me as misleading and contrary to common usage.

Who says, «The child, aged 17 and a half at the time of the events...» ?
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Old 01-24-2020, 09:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post
Anything on "larceny?"
IANAL but my understanding is that larceny is a subset of theft.

Larceny requires it to be a physical object that was stolen. Theft can also be when some immaterial thing of value is stolen like intellectual property.

Larceny also requires there to be an intent to change ownership of the property. Say I want to conceal my identity when I rob a convenience store so I steal your car to use in the robbery and then abandon it a few miles away from the crime scene after the robbery. You'll get your car back after it's found and I knew that was going to happen. So I didn't permanently take your car, which would make it theft but not larceny.

A couple of other related clarifications. Burglary is a subset of theft that involves illegally entering a location in order to steal something. Robbery is a theft that is carried out with violence or the threat of violence.
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Old 01-24-2020, 09:19 PM
Leo Bloom is offline
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
«Child» instead of «minor» strikes me as misleading and contrary to common usage.

Who says, «The child, aged 17 and a half at the time of the events...» ?
Lawyers. The State of Florida, in the Trayvon Martin case in the Zimmerman trial, for one. Towards the end they tried to charge "child abuse" at the beginning, but were denied, and then towards the very end of the trial, when 2nd-degree murder wasn't working out, they tried among other things to introduce that charge on its own.

Last edited by Leo Bloom; 01-24-2020 at 09:20 PM.
  #17  
Old 01-25-2020, 03:07 AM
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Originally Posted by UDS View Post
Yes, it comes from French. No, they're not pronounced the same - they are very differently stressed.
Actually, I think they all trace back to Latin. English petty or petite, French petit, and Spanish pequeno. Probably more in other languages.
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Old 01-25-2020, 08:23 AM
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In New Jersey it is not broken down by theft or larceny. And there isn’t petty and grand theft. And there isn’t fraud either. There is only theft which is broken down by how or what is taken. Theft of Movable Property, Theft by Deception, Theft of Services, Theft in Insolvency etc. Within each statute the crimes are graded by how much is taken.
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Old 01-25-2020, 08:27 AM
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It traces back to Latin, but it entered English via French:

https://www.etymonline.com/word/petty
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