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Property Crimes: Theft or Larceny

Larceny, in criminal law, felonious taking of money or personal property of another. Larceny is distinguished from robbery, in that the latter involves the use of force or threats of injury against the person from whom the money or property is taken. Examples of larceny are the picking of another’s pocket, the embezzlement of funds by a bank employee, the conversion to one’s own use of personal property belonging to another, or obtaining property by fraud or false pretenses.

In the old common law, several elements had to be present to constitute larceny: the property had to be actually taken and carried away and had to be in the absolute possession of the thief; and the taking and carrying had to be against the consent of the owner or possessor, and accompanied by a simultaneous felonious intent at the time the property was taken. Larceny in old common law was classified as compound or simple. Simple larceny was called grand larceny when the value of the stolen property was more than 12 pence, and petit (petty) larceny when the value was less. Compound larceny was the taking and carrying away of property from the person or house of the owner.

In the U.S. today, the various criminal codes of the states generally define larceny and classify it as either grand larceny or petit larceny. Under these codes, property is stolen and larceny committed when, with definite intent to deprive oneself or a third person, one wrongfully takes, obtains, or withholds such property from an owner of it. In New York State, for example, grand larceny is classified as a felony. It is characterized as first-degree if the property is obtained by extortion or through the abuse of a position as a public servant, and as second- or third-degree larceny depending on the value of the property stolen and the nature of the theft. Petit larceny, a misdemeanor, refers to theft not covered in the first three degrees.

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