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If it's Free, is it Stealing? The Truth Behind Theft

Posted by Nathan Hitchcock | Nov 30, 2018 | 0 Comments

A theft charge may seem like a straightforward accusation, but there are some forms of theft that are not so obvious. While some cases involve taking things from stores or stealing cars, there are some actions that could be considered theft that the average person would not consider as theft. Situations involving free items, or where something was given mistakenly, can potentially lead to theft charges.

            Probably the most common type of a theft charge in Maine is called Theft by Unauthorized Taking or Transfer. This involves taking control over an item without authorization to do so, intending to deprive the owner of that property. The base offense is a Class E misdemeanor, with a maximum sentence of six months in jail and a one thousand dollar fine. You will often be required to pay for the stolen item if you are convicted. The penalties can increase depending on the value of the item, reaching potential felony charges if the item is worth more than one thousand dollars. Additionally, if you have two prior theft convictions in any state, you could face a Class C felony charge no matter what was stolen. Class C felony charges come with a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a five thousand dollar fine, and two years of probation. Theft by Unauthorized Taking or Transfer is the classic form of theft, taking something that does not belong to you. However, circumstances can make this type of theft not so clear. Oftentimes, people will advertise online or through other methods that they have free items to give away. You can still face criminal charges for taking a free item. When the item is free, the issue becomes whether someone had authorization from the owner to take it. Just because something is advertised as free does not mean everyone has permission to take it, the owner must allow that person to take the item. Additionally, even though the item is listed as free, the Theft charge could still be enhanced if the item is valued at least over five hundred dollars. Before taking free items, make sure you are allowed to do so by getting permission from the owner.

            Theft by Deception involves taking something without permission, but it also involves lying about something in order to get the property. The base level for this offense is also a Class E misdemeanor, and can be enhanced based on the value of the property. This can involve impersonating someone who is allowed to have the property, where someone gives you something only because they think you are someone else. Also, prosecutors will often charge someone with this type of theft when someone is receiving public benefits when he or she should not be. Known as welfare fraud, prosecutors can charge someone who writes false information on their official forms to receive unemployment checks, SNAP benefits and other public benefits, and one of those charges will be Theft by Deception. Welfare fraud cases often become felonies very quickly due to the amount of money taken by deception.

            Theft of lost, mislaid, or mistakenly delivered property involves taking property that the person knows someone lost or misplaced, or was given to by mistake and does not try to return the property. This is a Class E misdemeanor, with the potential to get more serious depending on the value of the property. Every now and then, news reports tell of ATMs that malfunction and give people more money than they should. If this happens to you, and you do not attempt to return the extra money to the bank, you can be charged with theft under this form of theft. Even though the ATM gave you money because you asked for it, if the money you receive does not match the amount taken from your account, you can be charged with theft.

            Theft of Services involves accepting service from someone who you know expects to be paid, and then not paying. This crime is also a Class E misdemeanor with the potential for more serious penalties the more valuable the service. Eating at a restaurant and not paying, or leaving without paying for a haircut will likely be charged as theft of services.

Theft by Extortion involves taking someone else's property by forcing them to consent, either by threatening injury or some other negative impact on the owner. Blackmailing someone to give you property is theft by extortion, a Class C felony offense. Unlike other forms of theft, there is no difference in sentencing class based on the value of the item.

With many different forms of theft, it may be difficult to determine whether something is considered a theft. Theft can be a deceptively difficult type of case to prove under the right circumstances, and hiring a defense attorney allows you the comfort of knowing that someone who is trained to find weaknesses in a case is defending you. If you've been charged with Theft or another crime, contact the attorneys of WTB Law immediately for a consultation.

About the Author

Nathan Hitchcock

Nathaniel H. Hitchcock's practice is devoted solely to defending persons accused of committing criminal offenses. As an associate attorney at WTB LAW, Attorney Hitchcock works closely with Attorney William Bly, who is recognized statewide as a skilled and fierce advocate in the courtroom. Attorney Hitchcock regularly attends seminars and training focused on effectively defending a wide variety of criminal case types.

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