Larceny is a crime that is committed when a person unlawfully takes personal property or assets belonging to another person. In some states, larceny and theft go hand in hand, but in others, there is a clear definition between the two. Larceny is considered a statutory offense and the exact charges can vary depending on the value of the property taken. Each state also has clear codes and punishments that are in place when a person is charged with the crime. To explore this concept, consider the following larceny definition.

Definition of Larceny


The unlawful taking of property from another person with no intent of returning it.


Middle English larcin


What is Larceny

The crime of larceny involves the theft of assets or property from another person. In order for an individual to be charged with the larceny, certain specific elements must be in place. If one or more of these elements is missing, it can result in different charges such as burglary, robbery, or theft. There are four main elements of larceny.

Taking and Carrying Away

This element requires a person to take physical possession of the property in question. The amount of time that the person has possession is not a factor as even momentary control indicates larceny. Removing property from an owner does not necessarily constitute larceny if the defendant did not take control of it. For instance, knocking something from a person’s hand does not constitute larceny unless the defendant picks it up and takes it. The taking of the property must also be complete. This requires a person to take control or possession of the property.

Personal Property

For this element to be in place, the property must be tangible personal property, or items that can be seen, held, and felt. Under this requirement, intangible property such as labor and services, or rights under a contract, cannot be subject to larceny.

Without Permission from the Rightful Owner

If the property owner has given the person consent to take certain property, taking of that property is not larceny. For this element to be in place, the defendant must have used force, threats, or deceit to take the property from the owner. If the owner loans the person the property and that person fails to return it, this is theft rather than larceny.

Intent to Deprive the Rightful Owners of the Property Permanently

Intent requires that the person taking the property must believe that the property does not belong to them. If he mistakenly believe that he is the rightful owner of the property, it is not considered larceny, but theft. This element also states that the person taking the property must have no intent to return it. Even if he takes the property and sells it to a third party, it is considered larceny.

Degrees of Larceny

Most states specify different degrees of larceny. Most often, first-degree larceny is the most severe. In New York for example, there are four degrees of larceny.

  • First degree: Value greater than $1,000,000.
  • Second degree: Value greater than $50,000, but less than $1,000,000
  • Third degree: Value greater than $3,000, but less than $50,000
  • Fourth degree: Value greater than $1,000, but less than $3,000

Other ways different degrees of larceny are categorized include:

Petty Larceny

Petty larceny is a misdemeanor in most states, and this charge is used if the property taken falls under a certain value, as defined by each state. Even if the value is small, however, other elements of the crime may result in felony larceny charges.

Grand Larceny

Larceny becomes grand larceny when the property taken exceeds a certain value as defined by each state. For instance, in New York, property valued at over $1,000 is considered grand larceny. Other states have much lower thresholds, however, some considering anything over $400 to be grand larceny. Grand larceny punishment is more severe, as it is considered a more serious crime.

Felony Larceny

Some states use the term “felonious larceny” instead of grand larceny. While the basics are the same, this term clearly defines the difference between misdemeanor felony larceny charges. In jurisdictions utilizing this terminology, certain larceny crimes may be prosecuted as felonies, depending on circumstances, regardless of the value of the property stolen. Felonious Larceny is often charged when the theft occurred through breaking and entering, or if an explosive or otherwise dangerous device was used.

Larceny vs. Embezzlement

The main different between larceny and embezzlement charges is in how the property changes hands. With embezzlement, the defendant has legal possession of, or responsibility for, the property as some point. The defendant has usually been entrusted with the finances or assets stolen. In larceny, the property or asset is carried away and was never legally in the defendant’s possession.

Example of larceny:

A man walks into a store and tries on a coat. He removes the security tag and walks out of the store with no intent to pay for or return the coat.

Example of embezzlement:

At the same store, the account manager’s duties include issuing checks clients and suppliers. Logging a check under a supplies order, the account manager uses the check to purchase personal items.

Grand Larceny Punishment

After a person has been found guilty of larceny, he will attend a sentencing hearing, during which many things are taken into consideration.

  • The value of the property stolen
  • Previous criminal history
  • The means or method used to commit the crime
  • Whether or not weapons were used in committing the crime

The court also has the ability to consider other mitigating factors. For instance, the judge many consider whether or not the defendant has taken responsibility for the crime and if he has tried to return the stolen property. While each state has specific guidelines that influence sentencing, judges have the ability to impose sentences that fall within those guidelines. First offense misdemeanor charges often result in fines, probation, and community service. Second offenses can result in a jail term. Grand larceny offenses often result in fines, restitution, and prison time.

Larceny Attorney

When a person has been charged with larceny, whether is it a misdemeanor or felony, a criminal defense attorney is an important ally. These attorneys are qualified to defend people charged with crimes and many have experience with this type of case. While attorney fees can often be expensive, the person charged should weigh the costs and benefits to decide what is best for their situation. Attending court hearings without proper representation may result in stiffer charges and harsher sentences. An attorney may be able to help strike a plea bargain to lessen the charges.

Examples of Larceny

  • A man working for a construction company feels he is underpaid for his work. When his boss is away on vacation, the man enters his boss’s home and takes several valuable items that belong to the family. Even though the man believes his boss owes him, the theft of the boss’s personal property results in larceny.
  • A woman enters a store and takes two bottles of medication from the counter, placing them in her pocket. The woman did not leave the store, as security caught her before she could exit. The courts convicted the woman of larceny since she took possession of the medication and did not intend to return it.

Real Life Larceny Cases

Many cases of larceny have made their way into the press as well as the courtrooms over the years.

Credit Card Fraud Larceny

In 1991, Kevin Trudeau, a former radio personality and infomercial host, had a history of promoting and selling unsubstantiated diet, health, and financial products. Trudeau used the credit card information of customers purchasing the Mega Memory product to make more than $122,000 in personal purchases. Trudeau was convicted of credit card fraud and larceny, and sentence to federal prison in Alabama. Trudeau’s expected release date is July 2022.

Insurance Billing Scam

In 1992, William Rapfogel became the executive director of the Met Council. He, along with several others, came up with a scheme to inflate the company’s insurance prices. After billing the increased prices, the men pocketed the difference. Over a 20-year period, Rapfogel and his cohorts each pocketed over $5,000,000 from the scheme. Rapfogel used part of the money to upgrade his home and stashed the rest of the cash, which investigators found when they searched his home.

In 2013, police charged Rapfogel with grand larceny. The court then sentenced him to serve 3 1/2 to 10 years in prison, and to pay more than $3,000,000 in restitution. The exact length of time Rapfogel will spend behind bars will be determined by the amount he pays back. As of 2014, he had paid back nearly $1.5 million.

Rapper Attacks Paparazzi

Rapper A$AP Rocky, also known as “Rakim Mayers,” took part in a brawl in 2012 in New York City. The brawl occurred when two paparazzi photographers started taking pictures of him. Rocky attacked the men, grabbing their camera before police arrested him. The fight resulted in several charges, including larceny (for taking the camera) and assault. Rocky took a plea deal and was sentenced to three days of community service, and order to pay a fine.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Embezzlement – The theft or personal use of funds and assets entrusted to a person by an employer.
  • Felony – A crime involving violence or the taking of valuable property. This charge often results in a sentence of prison time for more a year or more.
  • Misdemeanor – An offense less serious than a felony, commonly garnering punishments such as fines, community service, and less than one year in jail. In the U.S., a misdemeanor is not an indictable offense.
  • Mitigating Factors – Facts or circumstances that are taken into consideration during the charging or sentencing phase of a trial. Such circumstances may lessen the severity of the crime or the punishment. Some mitigating factors include whether or not the defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crime, or whether or not he suffers from mental disabilities or illnesses.
  • Statutory Offense – A crime created against a statue. For instance, statutory rape may not occur against someone’s will, but the statue specifies age requirements for sexual activity.