Theft Lawyers | Theft by Unlawful Taking Charges | Philadelphia, PA
Fighting Unfair Theft Charges in PA and NJ
The Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC can help you or your loved one with Theft by Unlawful Taking ("TUT") charges and other types of theft charges. If you are facing allegations of stealing someone else's property, call 267-225-2545 for a complimentary, 15-minute criminal defense strategy session. Our criminal defense attorneys recognize that even misdemeanor and summary offenses can have significant consequences for the defendant. Any criminal conviction could result in jail time or a lengthy period of probation, and a conviction for stealing will likely make it much more difficult to keep or obtain a job. Convictions can also be extremely damaging for any professional who has to deal with professional licensing issues.
We have extensive experience representing clients in these types of cases in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and our criminal defense lawyers offer a 15-minute criminal defense strategy session to every potential client who is under investigation or facing criminal charges. We are understanding, dedicated defense attorneys who will use our high level of skill and extensive knowledge of the justice system on your behalf.
What is Theft by Unlawful Taking in Pennsylvania?
Theft by Unlawful Taking is perhaps the most commonly charged theft offense in Pennsylvania state court. It can range in gradation from a summary offense to a Felony of the Third Degree. A person has committed Theft by Unlawful Taking - Movable Property when the person "unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with intent to deprive him thereof." In essence, it is taking property that does not belong to you with the intent to keep it permanently.
The charge may also apply in the context of immovable property. Immovable property could be something like stock ownership or other financial assets. In that context, a person could be guilty of Theft by Unlawful Taking of immovable property if the person "unlawfully transfers, or exercises unlawful control over, immovable property of another or any interest therein with intent to benefit himself or another not entitled thereto." Thus, transferring the deed to real estate to yourself without permission could be evidence of Theft by Unlawful Taking of immovable property.
Theft by Unlawful Taking is often charged along with Receiving Stolen Property, and the two offenses merge at sentencing if the defendant is convicted of both criminal offenses.
Gradation of Theft Charges - Is Theft a Misdemeanor Or a Felony in PA?
The gradation of the charge depends on the value and type of the property involved. Because the offense can range from a summary offense to a felony of the first degree, the charges can quickly become extremely serious. The gradation and potential sentence of the charge is determined as follows:
When is Theft a Felony in PA?
First Degree Felony: Theft by Unlawful Taking is a felony of the first degree when the prosecution can show that the property involved is a firearm and that the defendant is in the business of buying and selling firearms. It is not enough for the prosecution to show only that the property was a firearm. It is also a felony of the first degree when the stolen property is worth $500,000 or more.
Second Degree Felony: The unlawful taking of a firearm when the defendant is not involved in buying and selling firearms is a felony of the second degree. Likewise, if the offense occurs during a disaster or war, it becomes a felony of the second degree.
Third Degree Felony: Stealing movable or immovable property is often a felony of the third degree because stealing a motor vehicle such as a car, boat, motorcycle, or dirt bike is a felony of the third degree. Thefts of vehicles are often charged as Receiving Stolen Property instead of TUT because it is fairly rare for the police or owner of the vehicle to see who actually stole the motor vehicle. Additionally, the unlawful taking of property worth less than $500,000 but more than $2,000 is also a felony of the third degree.
When is Theft a Misdemeanor in PA?
First Degree Misdemeanor: The unlawful taking of property by force or threat or in breach of a fiduciary duty is a misdemeanor of the first degree. This means that if a defendant is charged with taking property during the commission of a Robbery, the charges will always be graded at least as a misdemeanor of the first degree because Robbery by definition involves the use of force or threat. However, a successful defense to the robbery charge could also result in the theft charges being downgraded or dismissed.
Second Degree Misdemeanor: The unlawful taking of property worth less than $200 but more than $50 is a second degree misdemeanor.
Summary offense: The unlawful taking of property is a summary offense when the property is worth less than $50 or where there is no evidence as to the value of the property. It is important to be aware of the fact that TUT is a summary when there is no evidence of the property's value because the prosecution is often not totally prepared by the preliminary hearing and may not have adequately investigated what the allegedly stolen property was worth.
Jail Time For Theft Charges
The above categories provide only the maximum penalties and jail time for a theft conviction. There may be defenses in your case which could help you avoid conviction or avoid jail time even in the event of a conviction. In many cases involving felony valuations, it is still possible to negotiate for a lesser gradation if the defendant does not have a significant criminal history. It is also often possible to negotiate probationary sentences.
In Pennsylvania, judges are required to consider the sentencing guidelines when deciding on a sentence for a defendant. Like the gradation of the charge, the recommended sentence varies greatly depending on the value of the stolen property. For example, the Offense Gravity Score for stealing a car is 6 points, but the Offense Gravity Score for stealing property worth $1,000 is only 3 points.
For a defendant with no prior record who is convicted of stealing a car, the PA sentencing guidelines would recommend a minimum sentence of 3-12 months plus or minus 6 months, meaning that if the defendant can provide some mitigation to the court at sentencing, a judge would be justified in imposing a probationary sentence. Mitigation that a court would likely consider could include employment status, family and community support, completion of drug treatment or counseling, and ability to make restitution to the victim. This means that jail time is not always required upon conviction in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Defenses to Theft Charges in Pennsylvania
Depending on the nature and value of the property involved, these cases can become very serious. As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we are well versed in the potential defenses to all types of charges relating to stealing property. There are a number of potential defenses, including:
- Sufficiency of the Evidence - As recognized in the case of Commonwealth v. Matthews, the mere possession of stolen property or property belonging to another does not automatically mean that the possessor of that property is the person who stole or it that they knew it was stolen. This issue comes up often when buying property on internet websites like Craigslist, and in some cases, our defense lawyers may be able to convince the prosecutor to drop charges or have the charges dismissed before trial by showing that the defendant did not have the requisite guilty knowledge.
- Valuation - Our experienced criminal defense lawyers may be able to challenge the valuation of the property and have the charges reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor when the prosecutor cannot prove that the property was worth more than $2,000.
- Lack of Witnesses to the Crime - It is very common for the prosecution to simply charge Theft by Unlawful Taking any time that the defendant is caught with stolen goods. This is particularly true if it is obvious based on the condition of the items that the goods were stolen or if the items had been reported stolen shortly before the arrest of the defendant. However, TUT requires the prosecution to show that it was actually the defendant who stole the items. Even if it is obvious that they were stolen at some point, the evidence would establish only a potential case of Receiving Stolen Property. Therefore, unless there is eyewitness testimony or video surveillance showing the defendant actually stealing the items, there may be strong defenses to TUT charges. For this reason, the police will often attempt to question the suspect in a criminal case. We always recommend speaking with one of our criminal defense lawyers before making any kind of statement to the police because in most cases, a statement will not be helpful and in fact could be extremely harmful to your case.
- Credibility - Credibility is almost always an issue in criminal trials because the prosecution must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The unfortunate reality of the criminal justice system is that many witnesses and complainants ignore the fact that they have taken an oath to tell the truth prior to testifying. Therefore, we will use our extensive cross examination skills to expose any inconsistencies in statements which the witnesses have given or highlight reasons why the witness's story just doesn't make sense.
- Pre-Trial Diversion - Philadelphia prosecutors offer a number of different pre-trial diversionary programs which could allow you to avoid a criminal conviction and jail time if you have no prior record or a limited record. For example, in misdemeanor cases, it may be possible to negotiate admission to the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program, also known as AMP. AMP often allows the defendant to pay a small fine, make restitution, and complete some amount of community service in exchange for the dismissal and expungement of the charges. AMP is only offered in misdemeanor cases. ARD, the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, may also be an option in your case. ARD typically involves a larger fine, a period of probation, community service, and possibly drug or alcohol treatment if necessary in exchange for the dismissal of the charges. Once the charges have been dismissed, the defendant may the file for an expungement. ARD does not involve any admission of guilt or wrongdoing, and the AMP program may not involve an admission of guilt depending on the level of the program offered. Depending on the circumstances, either program may make sense even for an innocent defendant whose number one goal is to avoid a criminal conviction and permanent record.
Case Study - Commonwealth v. I.R.
Philadelphia police arrested I.R. and charged him with Theft by Unlawful Taking and Receiving Stolen Property as third degree felonies after police decdied that I.R. had been the passenger in a car which had recently been reported stolen. We were able to obtain a dismissal of all charges at the preliminary hearing. Our defense attorneys argued that police failed to identify I.R. as the driver of the vehicle. Further, I.R. did not do anything else to suggest a guilty conscience or that he had knoweldge that the car had been stolen. He did not run, seem nervous, or make incriminating statements to the police. Likewise, there was no evidence that there was anything about the car which would have put a passenger on notice that the car was stolen. The locks and ignition were all in normal condition. Accordingly, the Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge concluded that the prosecution failed to introduce sufficient evidence that the client knew or should have known that the vehicle was stolen. Following arguments by both sides, the Judge dismissed all charges against I.R..
We Can Help With Theft Charges
Speak With A Defense Attorney Today
The Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyers of Goldstein Mehta LLC know how to fight Theft by Unlawful Taking cases. We have fought many of these cases at trial, in pre-trial motions, and in preliminary hearings. We have obtained full acquittals and dismissals in a wide variety of cases. We recognize the issues in these cases and know how to respond in order to mount a strong defense.
Theft charges are often heard in the Philadelphia Municipal Court, and we have tried hundreds, if not thousands, of cases in that venue. However, even when charged as a misdemeanor, these charges are extremely serious due to the potential for damage to a defendant's career and employability. Therefore, if you or a loved one are facing any type of criminal charges in Philadelphia or the surrounding counties, call 267-225-2545 today for a complimentary criminal defense strategy session with one of our criminal defense lawyers.
The Definition of Theft by Unlawful Taking in PA
§ 3921. Theft by unlawful taking or disposition.
(a) Movable property.--A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes, or exercises unlawful control over, movable property of another with intent to deprive him thereof.
(b) Immovable property.--A person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully transfers, or exercises unlawful control over, immovable property of another or any interest therein with intent to benefit himself or another not entitled thereto.