What Constitutes Petty Theft?

The difference between petty theft and a greater theft classification is monetary value. Petty theft involves small amounts of money or property and is punished as a misdemeanour. For example in Ohio, stealing less than £325 of property is petty theft and a misdemeanour. Stealing more than £325 of property is a felony.

Keeping Lost Property

Stealing lost or missplaced property may be considered petty theft, depending on the state involved. Illinois is one state that classifies such theft as petty. If a person knowingly takes the property of someone he knows, or if he learns the owner's identity or knows how to identify the owner but does not attempt to return the property and intends to keep it, has committed petty theft in Illinois, according to its criminal code.

Shoplifting

Shoplifting is considered petty theft if the merchandise value is small enough to be classified as a misdemeanour. In Mesa, Arizona, shoplifting property of less than £650 is considered a misdemeanour except in cases where a firearm is stolen. A U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security noted in 2005 that organised retail theft does not qualify as petty theft: "Organized retail theft is a separate and distinct crime from petty shoplifting. It involves professional theft rings that move quickly from community to community and across State lines to pilfer large amounts of merchandise that is then repackaged and sold back into the marketplace."

Employee Theft

The theft of petty cash differs from petty theft. Petty cash theft can be in any amount and a felony if the amount is great enough. Petty theft doesn't even have to be monetary. If an employee steals food, office supplies, software or equipment, they can be charged with petty theft.

Bicycle Theft

Bicycle thieves who are caught can be charged with petty theft. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports 188,698 thefts nationwide in 2008, up slightly from previous years, the New York Times noted in a 2010 article. Bicyclists have started buying tracking systems for their bicycles, which cost enough to bring the value above petty theft, the article states.

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About the Author

Chrystal Doucette was health and education reporter for "The Columbia Basin Herald," a staff reporter for the "Snohomish County Tribune" and a contributing writer for the "Everett Business Journal." She owns and operates a retail business full-time since 2010. Baldwin holds a master's degree in communication and a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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