A Look at the Charge of Theft Under the New Criminal Code

I’ve Been Charged with Theft – Now What?

Recently we highlighted for you the significant changes that have taken place with respect to felony offenses in Indiana.  One change in particular merits special attention as much for its significance to many criminal defendants (and practitioners) as for its effect of making the punishment more proportional to the crime.
Prior to the change in the law effective July 1, 2014, the theft statute read as follows:

“A person who knowingly or intentionally exerts unauthorized control over property of another person, with intent to deprive the other person of any part of its value or use, commits theft, a Class D felony.”

Note that this language would apply to any theft, regardless of value.  However, the charge could be enhanced to a Class-C felony if the fair market value of the property was at least $100,000.00.  Certain other circumstances could enhance the offense to a Class-C felony as well.
The impact of the previous language is that even minor thefts could be charged as felonies.  Real life examples of convictions for D-Felony theft under the old law include charges such as stealing a bottle of wine worth $3.00 and stealing a candy bar from a gas station.  People stealing items with such a small value faced the same penalty as someone who stole property worth up to $99,999.99!
While the lesser included offense of Conversion as an A-Misdemeanor could be filed instead of theft, prosecutors had absolute discretion in charging the A-Misdemeanor or the D-Felony.  The D-Felony was often filed as an inducement for a defendant to plead to the A-Misdemeanor.  Some counties and prosecutors had policies of filing one or the other regardless of circumstance.
Ultimately, the discretion in the previous law meant that two people who were accused of stealing the same thing with the same value could face different charges – one could be charged with D-Felony theft, and the other could be charged with A-Misdemeanor conversion.  Most people would agree that this scenario is extremely unfair.  However, the new law has done away with the discretion discussed above.
As of July 1, 2014, Indiana has joined nearly every other state and imposed a minimum threshold value that must be reached before one can be charged with felony theft.  The new theft statute reads as follows:
Under I.C. 35-43-2-1, A person who knowingly or intentionally exerts unauthorized control over property of another person, with intent to deprive the other person of any part of its value or use, commits theft, a Class A-Misdemeanor.  However, the offense is a Level 6 felony if the value of the property is at least seven hundred fifty dollars ($750) and less than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000); a Level 5 felony if the value of the property is at least fifty thousand dollars ($50,000).
As with the old statute, there are circumstances other than value alone that can elevate the charge above an A-Misdemeanor.  If an individual has a prior unrelated conviction for theft or conversion, the charge will be enhanced to a Level 6 felony.  The theft can be elevated to a Level 5 felony if the theft is of a valuable metal that relates to transportation safety, public safety, or is taken from a hospital or health care facility, telecommunications provider, public utility, or key facility, and such theft creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to a person.
As we can see, the new theft statute is more forgiving for most first time offenders.  However, there are several circumstances that can increase the potential penalties for a theft even if the value of the property is less than $750.  The good news is that we now have some certainty as to what charges will result from a given act, and this certainty enables both you and your attorney to better prepare your case from the start.
If you or a loved one is facing a theft charge, or any other criminal charge in Marion or surrounding counties, give our experienced Indianapolis criminal defense attorneys a call.  Banks & Brower takes phone calls 24/7/2365 at 317.870.0019, and we can also be reached by email at info@banksbrower.com.