While the definition varies from state to state, New York state law uses the term “larceny” to describe theft.
The statutory definition can be found in New York Penal Law Section 155. Essentially, larceny occurs when a person steals property by wrongfully taking, obtaining or withholding that property from its owner. The statute also requires that the person either intends to deprive the owner of the property, or to take the property for himself or someone else.
Grand Larceny by Degree
Whether the crime is considered grand larceny depends on the value and/or type of property stolen. This article deals with grand larceny, which is broken into five categories.
The least severe offense is grand larceny in the fourth degree. It is a class E felony, which means jail time is unlikely for first time offenders. For a detailed look at the penalties you might face if charged with grand larceny, check out our article, Defeating a Grand Larceny Charge in New York.
For now let’s look at the types of stolen property that qualify as grand larceny in the fourth degree:
- Any property valued at over a thousand dollars
- Property Is taken from the person of another
- Property obtained by extortion
- A motor vehicle valued at over one hundred dollars
- A public record, writing, or instrument kept with any public office or public servant
- Secret scientific material
- A credit or debit card
- A scroll, religious vestment, vessel, or item displaying religious symbols forming an expression of faith
- An item worth at least a hundred dollars used in connection with religious worship by a religious organization.
- A firearm, shotgun, or rifle
- An access device with intent to unlawfully obtain telephone service
- Ammonia with intent to manufacture methamphetamine
As you can see, grand larceny in the fourth degree applies in a broad range of cases. New York Penal Law § 55 provides a bit more detail, but consulting with an experienced criminal attorney is the most reliable way to determine whether the property you’re considering falls into any of the above categories.
More severe is grand larceny in the third degree. As a class D felony, jail time for first offenders is possible where violence was involved.
Third-degree larceny is limited to two cases. The first is where the defendant stole property exceeding three thousand dollars. The second is where the property stolen was an automated teller machine (ATM), or the contents of an automated teller machine.
Grand larceny in the second degree is a class C felony. It arises when the property stolen is (1) over fifty thousand dollars, or (2) obtained by extortion. Extortion arises when you threaten the victim with physical injury, property damage, or, if the perpetrator is a public servant, abuse of his position to adversely affect the victim.
Finally, grand larceny in the first degree is a class B felony, and occurs whenever the value of the property stolen exceeds one million dollars.
One additional category delineated by statute is aggravated grand larceny of an automated teller machine (ATM). Like grand larceny in the second degree, It is a class C felony, which means that jail time is likely where violence is invovled.
This charge only arises when the perpetrator has been convicted of grand larceny in the third degree within the previous five years.
Grand Larceny Elements
New York Penal Law § 55 defines grand larceny as follows:
A person steals property and commits larceny when, with intent to
deprive another of property or to appropriate the same to himself or to a third person, he wrongfully takes, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof.
The dense statutory language noted actually gives rise to three separate elements that must be proven in order to establish a larceny conviction, as explained below:
(1) The wrongful taking, obtaining, or withholding
Wrongful taking means that such taking is unlawful. When the bank forecloses on your house because you haven’t made your mortgage payments, that’s not a wrongful taking, because they have a legal right to do so. Yes, they have intentionally deprived you of your property, but because the wrongful element is not met, you cannot succeed on a larceny claim against them.
New York law defines several examples of crimes that meet this element, and some of them may surprise you. If you’re curious to know whether it’s illegal to accept the wrong change or accept a package that wasn’t intended for you, or pocket lost property, check out our article below:
(2) Of someone else’s property
This element simply means that the property cannot be yours.
Imagine you lend your car to your friend to drive to work for the day. You then find out that your friend said rude things about you. Enraged, you take an Uber to your friend’s office and use your extra key to start the car and drive it away. Despite the hardship this may impose on your friend, he can’t successfully accuse you of larceny because the car is yours.
The one exception to this is where you co-own property with someone else. For example, let’s say that while living with a girlfriend you jointly purchase a flat screen tv. If the two of you break up, and you take the tv, she could successfully accuse you larceny. In this example, your girlfriend’s possessory interest is equal to yours, and you are depriving her of her ownership rights.
(3) With the intent to either deprive the owner, OR to take the property for himself or someone else:
Intent is an important element in any criminal case, because proving it requires evidence of your state of mind.
For example, if your wife went into labor, and you jumped in an unlocked car with the key in the ignition that just so happened to be sitting nearby, establishing intent would be difficult because your motivation was not to deprive the owner of the car, nor was it to take it for yourself. Your intent was to bring your wife to the hospital.
Explaining Important Terms
There are several terms used in the statute that require clarification. New York Penal Law § 55 has a more thorough explanation of the terms used, but here is a simplified breakdown of the ones you might be most curious to understand:
Generally, the value of the property refers to the market value at the time and place of the crime. If the market value cannot be determined, then value is calculated according to the cost of replacement within a reasonable time after the crime. However, when the value cannot be satisfactorily ascertained, it will be considered less than two hundred
and fifty dollars.
The “owner” is the person who has a superior right of possession to the taker. For example, where one person stole a wallet, and the wallet was then stolen from him by a second person, the second person is still guilty of larceny. That’s not to say he wouldn’t expose himself to sanctions for the original theft by pressing charges against the second thief, but the second thief is still a thief in the eyes of the law.
It’s also important to note on this point, that where a person is lawfully possessing property, they have a superior possessory interest to a person with a security interest in that property, unless there is a specific agreement to the contrary. This is true even if the person with the security interest has legal title.
To deprive another person of property, you must either take someone else’s property from them, or arrange for it to be taken. The time period also matters.
For example, borrowing someone’s car for an hour would not be considered depriving them of property for larceny purposes. Stealing it permanently would. Withholding it from him for several years probably would too.
The standard is “for so extended a period or under such circumstances that the major portion of its economic value or benefit is lost to him”.
But you don’t have to keep the property to deprive a person of it for legal purposes. Imagine you steal a wallet out of someone’s purse in a restaurant. You then walk a block away, take out the cash and throw the wallet on the street. The owner might find the wallet, but they most likely won’t. In this case, you would not only be liable for the stolen cash, but for the wallet as well.
Hopefully, this article helped you understand how grand larceny is defined under New York law. For information regarding grand larceny penalties, check out our article, Defeating a Grand Larceny Charge in New York.
As with any crime, it’s important to consult with a criminal defense attorney when you’re facing charges. A risk-free consultation will help you understand your legal rights so you can best defend yourself moving forward.