What is Larceny?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Larceny is a crime in which someone unlawfully takes something which belongs to someone else, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his or her rightful possession. It is also known as “theft,” and depending on the region. The penalties for this crime vary, depending on what is stolen and regional laws.

Legal systems typically differentiate between grand larceny, which might involve stealing a car, and petty larceny, which is the theft of something of lesser value.
Legal systems typically differentiate between grand larceny, which might involve stealing a car, and petty larceny, which is the theft of something of lesser value.

As a general rule, most legal systems distinguish between petty and grand larceny on the basis of the value of the item stolen. For example, stealing a car would be a case of grand larceny, as cars are generally quite valuable, while stealing someone's kitchen table would be petty larceny. In both cases, the thief intends to benefit in some way from the object stolen, while the person to whom the object belonged suffers as a result of its absence.

Shoplifting is typically considered petty larceny.
Shoplifting is typically considered petty larceny.

There are also several different kinds of this crime. For example, in a case of larceny by trick, someone tricks someone into giving up an item which belongs to them; for example, someone could pretend to be a law enforcement officer and steal something from a victim by saying that the item was being confiscated. In the case of larceny by false pretenses, someone might do something like selling a stolen car to someone else while pretending to be the car's owner. In another type called larceny by false promise, someone takes something with the understanding that a service will be given in return and never renders the service, as might be the case with someone who agrees to sell an antique for a small fee and turn the profit over to the antique's owner, but then simply pockets the funds from the sale.

Unlike robbery, larceny does not involve violence or threats of violence.
Unlike robbery, larceny does not involve violence or threats of violence.

One of the defining characteristics of this crime is that it is nonviolent. If someone breaks into a car and steals it, this is larceny. If someone happens to be in the car at the time, it becomes a carjacking. The absence of violence makes this crime less heavily punished than crimes like robbery, which involve active violence against people or property.

Anyone accused of automobile theft who threatened or harmed the vehicle's owner or passengers will nearly always face felony charges.
Anyone accused of automobile theft who threatened or harmed the vehicle's owner or passengers will nearly always face felony charges.
Larceny is a common crime among large crowds.
Larceny is a common crime among large crowds.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@anon320383 - The film student: Unless you got your arrangement in writing (like a contract signed by both of you), there is nothing you can do. If he took your work and never paid for it, then morally, he did commit a crime. However, legally, you need some sort of evidence to prove that you two had an agreement that he violated.

Next time get your deal worked out in a contract that you both agree to. And even then, leave a big watermark with your name on it or something similar to stop someone from using the rough cut.


If someone sold a car that was not theirs, but the owner told them and gave them permission to sell it and never told them to give them any money for it, can the person that sold the car get in trouble? If so, what can happen?


Can the passenger in someone else's vehicle be the only one charged in a theft and larceny case? Is that legal?


I am a struggling film student and was commissioned to edit a promo video in early November of 2012 by a vp of syndication for a real estate company in the area where I reside. We had agreed on a day rate of $250 for my editing skills, and I completed a rough cut after one full day of work for the guy. I sent him my rough cut, and he said that he liked it, so I asked him to make a list of notes that I could take to the rough cut to make any desired changes before I reached the locked picture stage and he said it was a good idea.

Now I can't get hold of him anymore. He ignores all of my calls and emails, to his office and cell, and he never paid me. For a real estate development VP, you would think $250 wouldn't break his bank. What I would like to know is whether or not he has committed any crimes by way of accepting my edit of the video, while withholding payment.


What is the difference between larceny in the third degree and larceny in the fourth degree?


@anon65926: Your friend did you a favor. You didn't have money to live let alone take care of six cats. Your friend did me a favor and all of the other taxpayers out there. You didn't need six cats and be on welfare. Duh!


I owed my friend's mom money and he came over and grabbed my playstation 3. He was going to bring it to his mom and bring me some more money until friday when i could buy it back.

He never showed up and come to find out he never even told his mom about it. Then he stopped answering his phone, so i texted him. I was sending the cops. Now i have a receipt and the cops said because of our texts it is a civil matter and i have to take him to court for it, so i told him I'm going to file against him.

He told me if i want it back i will have to give him 450. Now i only owed his mom 120 so isn't that larceny and if so, why did the cops let him keep my ps3?


OK now here is a situation and i am not sure what to do. i moved in with a roommate and we got into a disagreement and we don't talk to each other but she is saying that i am committing larceny because to get to the laundry room you have to go through my room and since we aren't talking she can't come through my room, but, if you walk around to the back of the house you can get access to the laundry room through the garage.

So i am confused. If she can get to her washer and dryer but just not through my room then am i committing larceny? Please if you have any answers let me know. thanks.


It's good to know that such physical and emotional assaults are taken into law/legal consideration. I would also like to state that "If any crime regardless of its size would be penalized/punished the same way as the other, this would decrease the level of theft on its own," simply because people are always thinking of possible ways to benefit at the cost of others without any violent intentions.


I moved to Las Vegas to get out of a bad situation and try to survive. My "friend" offered to be roommates and I agreed.

I moved right after he did the paperwork and I was told that I was on the lease and we would have the same rent and same rights.

After moving there I realized that I had made a big mistake but I was stuck and had nowhere else to go. He was not only a liar, but he also was very emotionally abusive.

We did not have any kind of "relationship" other than "friends", but he made sure people thought differently and that sure was uncomfortable. He quit paying rent and was getting evicted, but I was not on the lease, like he said I was and I was unaware of the seriousness of the situation. One day I was coming home from welfare and could not get in the apartment because the Constable had locked us out, including all my belongings and Animal Control took possession of my six cats.

He has told me several times that he was going to put my name on the papers so I could have the things moved out. The other day he told me that he was going to get his stuff and I would never see my belongings again. I not only lost everything except the clothes I was wearing that day, I also lost all of my animals. Please tell me that he won't get away with it?


Larceny is another expression for theft, a crime against property. There are 3 kinds of thefts, 1. Attempt Theft(Larceny), 2. Petty Theft(Larceny) and 3. Grand Theft(Larceny).

Petty and Grand are distinguished based on the amount of loss. There is never any force used in larceny. If force or threat of force were to be used, than larceny would be classified as robbery.


Attempted larceny, requires the intent to steal, but the property doesn't have to have been moved to hold someone guilty of attempted larceny.

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