The language of theft crimes can be confusing. For example, you may hear the words “theft” and “robbery” used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing—certain types of theft are robberies, but others are not. Similarly, many people think of burglary as a theft crime, but a person can be guilty of burglary without stealing anything or even intending to steal anything. And, while it’s common to think of theft in terms of objects or money, in Ohio you can be charged with and convicted of stealing services, a ride on the train, or Internet access.
When you’re telling a story to a friend, the specific terminology generally isn’t important. But, if you or someone you care about has been charged with a theft crime, then it is important to understand the differences between basic theft, robbery, burglary, and other theft crimes.
What is Theft?
In Ohio, theft is defined as knowingly obtaining or exerting control over property or services “with purpose to deprive owner of property of services” if the property is obtained or control exerted:
- Without the consent of the owner or another person with authority to consent,
- Beyond the scope of any consent given or implied,
- By deception,
- By threat, or
- By intimidation
Note that when property is taken with consent that is obtained through deception, threat, or intimidation, that consent is not valid and does not protect the taker from being charged with or convicted of theft.
Whether theft is a felony or misdemeanor, and the degree and possible penalty, depend on several factors. Generally, theft of property or services valued at less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor, with a maximum possible sentence of 180 days in jail. When the property is of greater value, the charge is a felony, and harsher sentences apply.
Theft may also be charged as a felony under other circumstances, such as when:
- The victim is a member of a protected class, such as an elderly or disabled person or an active duty service member
- The property stolen is a firearm or other “dangerous ordnance”
- The property stolen is a motor vehicle
- The property stolen is a dangerous drug
- The property stolen is a credit card (regardless of whether it was used)
Additional Theft-Related Crimes
While many people refer to simple theft in terms like “getting robbed,” robbery occurs only when a person attempting, committing, or fleeing from a theft offense, also:
- Is armed with a deadly weapon, or
- Inflicts or attempts to inflict physical harm on another, or
- Uses or threatens immediate force against another, or
Depending on the specifics, robbery is either a second-degree or third-degree felony, and can carry a prison sentence of up to eight years. It is important to note that the thief need not use or threaten another person with the weapon in order to be convicted of robbery—simply carrying the weapon or having it within one’s control at the time of the offense is sufficient. When a weapon is used or brandished, or if harm is inflicted on someone during the course of a robbery, the offense can be elevated to “aggravated” status and more serious penalties apply.
While burglary brings to mind a thief breaking into a house to steal valuables while the family is on vacation, burglary isn’t necessarily a theft crime. A person is guilty of burglary when he or she trespasses by force, stealth or deception in an occupied structure with the purpose of committing a crime within the structure. In simple terms, anyone who breaks in, forces his way in, sneaks in, or tricks someone into allowing him into an occupied structure in order to commit a crime is guilty of burglary, regardless of the nature of the crime he intends to commit, or whether that crime is accomplished.
Like robbery, burglary may be either a second-degree or third-degree felony and can be enhanced to “aggravated” status where weapons are used or physical harm is inflicted.
What to Do When Charged with Theft, Robbery, or Burglary
If you have been charged with the crime of theft, robbery, or burglary, it is the state’s responsibility to prove each element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate your case and the state’s evidence for weaknesses and may be able to negotiate a more favorable outcome, get the charges reduced or dismissed, or successfully fight the charges at trial.
However, criminal cases move quickly and you may lose your opportunity to challenge evidence or assert a defense. If you’re facing criminal charges, schedule a consultation with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.