What Does Larceny Mean?

Larceny is the legal term for theft, involving the unauthorized taking of someone else’s property. It’s categorized based on the value of the stolen items, ranging from petty theft for smaller amounts to grand larceny for larger values. Understanding larceny is important as it helps in recognizing the seriousness of this crime and its legal implications.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Larceny Definition and Elements

Larceny is a common law crime involving the unauthorized taking and carrying away of someone else’s tangible personal property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the possession. The key elements that prosecutors have to prove for a larceny conviction typically are:


  1. Taking – The defendant took possession or carried away someone else’s property without consent. This requires gaining control over the property, even if momentarily.
  2. Property of another – The property taken must have belonged to someone other than the defendant. This includes property that the defendant has possession of but does not own.
  3. Carrying away – Slight movement of the property is enough, such as moving it from one room to another or putting an item in one’s pocket. The property does not have to be taken off-site.
  4. Intent to steal – At the time the property was taken, the defendant intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property. This means not intending to ever return it.
  5. Without consent – the owner did not give permission for their property to be taken. Consent obtained by the deception or fraud is considered without consent.
  6. Tangible personal property – Only the physical, movable property constitutes larceny, not the land or buildings. Intangible things like ideas and also inventions cannot be stolen under the larceny laws.

The definition and elements of larceny can vary slightly by the jurisdiction but these core requirements are fairly standard in most places. Proving these elements beyond a reasonable doubt is very necessary for a larceny conviction.

What is an example of larceny?

  1. Shoplifting: Taking items from a store without paying.
  2. Pickpocketing: Stealthily removing someone’s wallet or phone from their pocket or bag.
  3. Bicycle Theft: Stealing a bicycle that is parked or unattended.
  4. Snatching a Purse: Grabbing someone’s purse or bag and running away with it.
  5. Employee Theft: An employee taking goods or money from their workplace.
  6. Car Theft: Illegally taking a car that belongs to someone else.
  7. Stealing Mail: Taking mail or packages from someone’s mailbox or doorstep.
  8. Embezzlement: Misappropriation of funds placed in one’s trust or belonging to one’s employer.
  9. Burglary: Breaking into a house or building to steal.
  10. Stealing Art or Antiques: Taking valuable art or antiques without permission.

If you’re facing charges for serious crimes, consulting a federal criminal defense lawyer is essential to navigate the complex legal system and protect your rights.

What Is the Difference Between Larceny vs Theft?

The main differences between larceny and theft are:

  • Legal definitions – There are two types of legal definitions: general and specific. Larceny refers to the illegally taking someone’s property without their consent. Theft is a broader term that describes the act of larceny along with other serious crimes like burglary and robbery.
  • Level of crime – Petty theft involves taking property worth less than a set amount determined by the local laws. Grand theft involves larger amounts of property and is a much more serious crime. Larceny can be considered a type of petty theft, usually treated as a misdemeanor.
  • Use of force – Larceny refers to the taking someone else’s property through the stealth rather than force. Theft is a country-wide problem and can involve the threat of force or the violence as seen with robbery. Larceny typically only involves the act of secretly taking the property.
  • Trespassing – Burglary involves unlawful trespassing to commit theft. Larceny does not require unlawful entry since the property is directly taken from the owner rather than a structure.
Aspect Larceny Theft
Definition Unlawful taking of someone else’s property without their consent. General term for taking someone’s property without permission with intent to keep it.
Legal Classification Often classified based on the value of the property (e.g., petty or grand larceny). Varies widely, includes all forms of stealing, regardless of property value.
Examples Shoplifting, purse snatching, bicycle theft. Burglary, robbery, identity theft, auto theft.
Severity Ranges from minor (petty larceny) to serious (grand larceny) based on property value. Severity can range from minor to very serious, depending on the circumstances.
Intent Intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Intent to take property without permission, regardless of duration or property value.

In summary, larceny specifically refers to the act of illegally taking someone else’s property through stealth rather than the force. Theft is a much more general term that can include larceny but it also covers other related property crimes committed using the force and unlawful entry. The legal definitions and penalties associated with each are very different.

What’s the difference between larceny and robbery?

The main differences between larceny and robbery are:

  • What’s taken: Larceny involves stealing someone’s property, while robbery involves stealing the property directly from a person by man-made force or by the threat of force.
  • Use of force: Robbery involves the use or a threat of force against the victim in order to steal their property. Larceny does not require alot force or threat of force.
  • Setting: Larceny often happens out of the victim’s immediate presence, such as burglary from an unoccupied house. Robbery happens in the victim’s immediate presence.
  • Penalties: Robbery is considered a much more serious and dangerous crime than larceny, and is punished much more harshly. Robbery is typically a misdemeanour with longer prison sentences, while petty larceny may be only a misdemeanor.
Aspect Larceny Robbery
Definition Unlawful taking of someone else’s property without their consent. Taking property from a person or in their presence, against their will, through force or intimidation.
Legal Classification Classified based on the value of the property (e.g., petty or grand larceny). Considered a more serious crime due to the use of force or threat.
Examples Shoplifting, purse snatching, bicycle theft. Mugging, bank robbery, carjacking.
Use of Force/Threat No use of force or threat against a person. Involves force or threat of force.
Intent Intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Intent to take property through force or fear.

In summary, the main distinction is that robbery involves force or threat against a person to steal from them directly. Larceny takes someone’s property without using any violence or threats against the person. Robbery is considered the the more dangerous, aggressive crime with many harsher legal penalties.

Misdemeanor Larceny

When the value of the property is worth less than or equal to $1,000, it is usually classed as a Class 1 Misdemeanor Larceny in North Carolina. If the charge is for concealing merchandise in a store for later shoplifting, the charge may be downgraded to a class 2 or 3. There are a lot of factors considered in misdemeanor larceny sentencing, including the criminal history of the defendant.

Felony Larceny

The charge is felony larceny if any of the following factors are involved:

  • The value of the property is more than $1,000.
  • The item stolen was a firearm or explosive.
  • The item stolen was motor vehicle parts.
  • The item stolen was a North Carolina State Archive record.
  • Larceny from a construction site
  • Burglary
  • Robbery of a person
  • Chop shop activity
  • Larceny by employee (whether the value was less than or more than $100 will determine felony larceny class)

The class of the felony will impact sentencing in your larceny case.

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