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Imagine you’re at the mall with a friend browsing clothing when you come across a pair of jeans on the rack that you really like. You look at the price tag and gasp to find out that the pair will cost $100, much out of your price range. You turn to your friend to share your disappointment and frown over the high price. However, instead of reassuring you that you’ll be able to buy them one day, your friend urges you to roll up the pair of jeans and hide it in your backpack when no one is looking.
The adrenaline rushes as you scan the store for any prying eyes and quickly stuff the pair away, zip up your bag, and head past the register for the exit. You’re home free, or so you thought when you feel a hand tightly grip your arm. Uh oh, it’s loss prevention and now you’re caught.
You’re shaken and embarrassed as the loss prevention officer detains you in the store office while she dials up the police. The police show up and talk to loss prevention, then issue you a summons to appear in court. You’ve never been in trouble before in your life, now what?
Theft and related offenses fall under Chapter 2913 of Ohio Revised Code. In Ohio, a theft is committed when a person, with the purpose to deprive the owner of property or services, knowingly obtains or exert control over either the property or services in any of the following ways:
- Without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;
- Beyond the scope of the express or implied consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;
- By deception;
- By threat; or
- By intimidation.
R.C. 2913.01(A)(1) – (5)
Theft is charged as either a “petty” theft or “grand” theft depending on the value of the goods or services and the status of the victim. A petty theft occurs when the value of the goods or services falls under $1000 and the victim does not fall into a protected class under the statute. So that pair of jeans you took would fall under this section. A petty theft is a first-degree misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
If the value of the goods or services falls between $1,000 and $7,500, theft is a fifth-degree felony. R.C. 2913.01(B)(2). Theft is also a fifth-degree felony if certain items were involved, such as a credit card, printed check or negotiable instrument, a motor vehicle license plate or window sticker, a blank form for a certificate of title, or a blank form for a driver’s license. R.C. 2913.71. A fifth-degree felony is punishable by 6 – 12 months’ prison and a $2,500 fine.
A grand theft occurs when the value of the property or services stolen is between $7,500 and $150,000. Grand theft is a fourth-degree felony, subject to a prison sentence between 6 – 18 months’ and a $5,000 fine. R.C. 2913.01(B)(2). Stealing an automobile is also charged as grand theft, regardless of value. R.C. 2913.01(B)(5).
The next type of theft is known as “aggravated theft.” An aggravated theft is committed when the value of the property or services falls between $150,000 and $750,000. Aggravated theft is a third-degree felony and can be punished by 9 – 36 months’ prison and a $10,000 fine. R.C. 2913.01(B)(2). Penalties for aggravated theft continue to increase corresponding to the value or the property or services. Aggravated theft is a second-degree felony, punishable by 2 to 8 years’ prison and a $15,000 fine for amounts between $750,000 and $1,500,000. Id. The highest level of theft is Ohio is aggravated theft of $1,500,000 or more and is a first-degree felony, punishable by 3 to 11 years’ prison and a $20,000 fine. Id.
As mentioned, some theft offenses are subject to a higher penalty when the victim falls into a protected class. Persons in protected classes include the elderly, disabled adults, active duty service members, or spouses of an active duty service member. R.C. 2913.01(B)(3). Any theft from one of these persons will be at its lowest level charged as a fifth-degree felony. Id. The degree of offense and penalties follow the same pattern by amount as discussed above, but skip one degree higher (i.e., a theft of $1,000 – $7,500 is an F4, $7,500 – $150,000 is an F3, and so on).
In addition to automobiles, when the stolen item falls under a special classification, the degree of offense and penalties for theft increase. For instance, stealing a firearm or dangerous ordnance falls under grand theft and is a third-degree felony with a presumption in favor of a prison term. R.C. 2913.01(B)(4). A firearms theft becomes a first-degree felony if stolen from a federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL). Id. A theft sentence for a firearm must also be served consecutively to any other prison term imposed. Id.
Other special classifications include theft of dangerous drugs, such as prescription narcotics. R.C. 2913.01(B)(6). A drug theft is a fourth-degree felony or a third-degree felony if the offender has previously been convicted of a felony drug abuse offense. Id. Police dogs or horses also receive special protection and a theft of a police animal is a third-degree felony. R.C. 2913.01(B)(7). Stealing anhydrous ammonia (used in the production of methamphetamine) is also a third-degree felony. R.C. 2913.01(B)(8). Theft of “special purpose articles” (defined in R.C. 4737.04) such as beer kegs, grave markers, grocery carts, and other items is charged as a fifth-degree felony. R.C. 2913.01(B)(9). Lastly, theft of gasoline carries a special penalty of a court-imposed driver’s license suspension. R.C. 2913.01(B)(10).
So, let’s return to your situation with the jeans. You’ve never committed as a much as a traffic offense before and now you’re involved in the criminal justice system for a dumb mistake. What are the potential consequences? Well, in addition to the fines and jail time mentioned above, a theft conviction carries a particular stigma.
If convicted, your friends, family, potential employers, and other members of the community will be able to search your name and find your record simply by typing your name into a clerk of courts website. The conviction will also appear on any background check for licenses or employment. Many employers are hesitant to give a job to someone with a theft conviction, especially if the position allows access to money or other valuables.
Luckily, if you are charged with theft your attorney can help you by explaining your options, including any chances of keeping the offense off your record. Many first-time offenders are eligible for programs known as “diversion.” Enrolling in a diversion program requires you to enter a guilty plea but you will not be sentenced pending the successful completion of the program. Beware, that by entering a guilty plea, the court can sentence you to up to the maximum time if you fail to complete diversion or engage in new offenses.
A diversion program usually involves attending classes on avoiding situations that lead to trouble, substance abuse, and decision making. You must also complete one day or more of community service work. After you successfully complete the program and attend graduation, your case will be dismissed and record sealed which protects you from any issues that might arise after a records check. It will be as if the theft never happened.
If you do not qualify for diversion, you might be able to seek expungement for the offense. In Ohio, you may apply to have two misdemeanors, one felony, or one misdemeanor and one felony expunged from your record. Theft is a common offense for expungement.
Finally, your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor for an amendment of the charge to something lesser, such as a disorderly conduct, criminal mischief, or misuse of property. While you will still be convicted of an offense, this might be a last option to avoid the stigma of a theft on your record.
If you were charged with theft, it’s important to speak with a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Benjamin D. Migdal in Cuyahoga Falls represents clients accused of theft in courts throughout Northeast Ohio. Please contact Attorney Migdal at 234-206-1865 if you have a theft case or for any other criminal law matters.