Theft by Deception Charges

Theft by deception involves taking another's property through deceit or trickery. Because the penalties can be severe and the elements of theft by deception can vary from state to state, finding an experienced theft by deception lawyer is essential. If you have been accused of theft by deception, learn about the elements of the crime and about how to find a good criminal defense attorney near you with our free legal guide below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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  • A conviction for theft can range from misdemeanors to felonies depending on the value of the item taken, method of taking, and the state.
  • Theft by deception charges require an element of deceit, or false impressions.
  • In some states, theft by deception can result in multiple charges such as simple theft, theft by deception, and securing execution of a document by deception.

What is the form of theft?

There are a variety of crimes that can arise from looting a person of property. The way that taking happens dictates the exact nature of the charge.

If force or the threat of force is used, the crime is robbery. If the perpetrator is armed it becomes armed robbery, and if the perpetrator is armed with a deadly weapon the charge can be further heightened.

Theft crimes occur when another’s personal property is taken without force or the threat of force. Examples of theft include when an item is simply taken, whether the victim is aware or not. If, however, the property is taken through deceiving the rightful owner, the criminal charge is theft by deception.

Theft by deception can result in severe criminal and civil penalties. Depending on where the crime is committed, the value of the property, and the exact circumstances, the penalty for theft by deception could be relatively minor misdemeanor charges or severe felony charges.

Whether you have actually committed the crime and gained control over property or have been falsely accused of stealing, what you do next can have serious and long-lasting consequences.

If you are facing a theft by deception charge, finding an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential. You can begin your search for a criminal attorney near you by entering your ZIP code into our search tool.

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What is theft by deception?

Theft by deception is a type of theft similar to a basic theft charge, which is the unlawful taking of something that belongs to another person with the intent to deprive the owner of the personal property, but theft by deception requires that the individual employed some deceptive act or used deceptive words which were relied upon by the victim in making the decision to turn over their property.

Different states have various definitions of what is considered deception, but they typically include language such as “words or conduct that create a false impression.” For example, if someone makes a representation that they own a construction business and takes money from a victim to perform a job they never intended to complete, then there could be prosecution for theft by deception. It doesn’t matter that the victim voluntarily gave the perpetrator their money, as long as the state can prove that the victim relied on a defendant’s representations.

What are possible defenses to theft by deception?

The usual defenses in a regular theft case are that the defendant either didn’t take the item at all or that the victim willingly gave the defendant the property. The expanded theft by deception charge, which includes the deception element, also expands the defensive theories. Because deception is required, a defendant can present more evidence regarding the formation of a contract, the expectations of the parties, partial completion of any promises, and the victim’s state of mind.

Many theft by deception cases are similar to a breach of contract dispute in some ways at trial because they address the same contested issues contract issues. The complexity of these issues makes it very difficult for a defendant to represent themselves and require the assistance of an attorney with experience defending criminal charges.

What are the penalties for theft by deception?

A charge of theft can range from a misdemeanor level offense up to a first-degree felony offense. Before a defendant decides to go to a jury trial or to take a plea bargain, they should understand the consequences of such a serious conviction.

The degree of offense is usually controlled by the value of the item stolen. For example, in Texas, the theft of a vehicle worth $2,000 would result in a state jail felony, while a vehicle worth $30,000 would be punished at a higher third-degree level. Some states also make the theft of certain items automatic felonies.

The sentencing range for misdemeanor theft by deception can include probation up to a year or two in jail time. The range of punishments for felony theft by deception can range from probation to twenty years or more in prison. Prosecutors are sometimes motivated to plea bargain theft by deception cases because they recognize the difficulty of “deception” elements and the need for most victims to obtain restitution.

Once a defendant is sentenced to prison, their earning power decreases which reduces the opportunities for restitution payments. Any plea bargain should try to resolve all potential criminal issues.

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How do you go about resolving ancillary charges?

A defendant considering how to plea should also attempt to resolve all related pending charges. A common ancillary charge to theft by deception is securing execution of a document by deception. If a victim signs over title to a defendant based on a deceptive act, then there could be prosecution for theft by deception or securing execution of a document by deception.

Some states authorize a defendant to be convicted of both offenses when a defendant is faced with dual charges. This practice gives the state multiple “bites at the apple.” Once a conviction is completed, a criminal conviction can also have several civil consequences.

As mentioned, many theft by deception cases tend to have civil lawsuit overtones. A plea of guilty in a criminal case could be used against a defendant in a civil suit. Alternatively, if a conviction in a criminal case orders a defendant to pay restitution, some states will authorize victims to enforce the criminal judgment as they would any other civil judgment.

In states where this rule applies, a victim could attach property of the defendant in order to satisfy the obligation. Paying huge restitution amounts can sometimes be overwhelming or frustrating, thereby tempting some defendants to file for bankruptcy. Unfortunately, criminal restitution obligations are not dischargeable in a bankruptcy proceeding.

What are the long-term consequences of a conviction?

From an employment perspective, a theft by deception conviction can severely limit options. Many employers will not hire a defendant with assaultive or deceptive criminal histories. The lack of employment opportunities can also frustrate a defendant’s opportunity to pay restitution.

A defendant charged with theft by deception should not rely on their own negotiations before they resolve their charges. A theft by deception conviction can result in as many or more long-term consequences as a regular theft conviction.

Consider a consultation with an attorney to take advantage of the common desire of prosecutors to resolve this charge of theft with probation may minimize the long term consequences of the charges and the possibility of a serious conviction. People looking for search tools to get the services of an experienced criminal law attorney can use our FREE search tool right now.

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