In Iowa, like in every other state, stealing property is a crime punishable by a prison sentence and/or fines. Iowa laws set out five levels of theft distinguished by the value of the property or services that were stolen. First-degree theft is the most serious of the five levels of theft, while fifth-degree theft is the least serious.
What Is Theft in Iowa?
Different states define crimes differently. In Iowa, the definition of the crime of theft is very specific, yet casts a wide net. Any or all of these types of taking property constitute theft in Iowa when an individual:
- Takes possession of property belonging to another person with the intention of permanently depriving the person of the property.
- Takes control of property belonging to another person with the intention of permanently depriving the person of the property.
- Uses deception to get free or undervalued labor, services or property.
- Misappropriates property belonging to someone else.
- Misuses property that belongs to someone else.
- Conceals property that belongs to someone else in a manner that is contrary to the owner's property rights.
- Takes or receives stolen property that they know or should known was stolen.
- Receives electrical service, telephone service or cable service by connecting to the service when unauthorized to do so.
Meaning of "Permanently Deprive"
The intention to permanently deprive someone of property is also defined under Iowa law. There are several possible scenarios. The term can mean that the defendant:
- Has no intention of returning the property.
- Intends to keep the property for an extended period.
- Plans to dispose of the property.
Degrees of Theft in Iowa
Iowa classifies state theft crimes based on the monetary value of the stolen property or services. If the theft is valued at no more than $1,500, the crime is a misdemeanor, the lesser type of crime in Iowa. Any time that the amount of property or services stolen is valued at over $1,500, the crime is a felony, the more serious type of crime. Fifth-, fourth-, and third-degree theft are misdemeanors; second-degree and first-degree thefts are felonies in Iowa.
- Fifth-degree theft (simple misdemeanor): Theft of property or services that have a value of $300 or less.
- Fourth-degree theft (serious misdemeanor): Stealing property or services with a value of over $300, but no more than $750.
- Third-degree theft (aggravated misdemeanor): Stealing property or services that are valued at between $750 and $1,500, or committing a third or subsequent theft of $500 or less.
- Second-degree theft (Class D felony): Stealing property property or services valued at between $1,500 and $10,000 or, alternatively, theft of a motor vehicle.
- First-Degree Theft (Class C felony): This level theft, the highest level, involves stealing property or a motor vehicle valued at more than $10,000 or the theft of any property from the person of another individual regardless of the value of the property, or looting property from a structure that has been damaged or emptied because of natural disaster, civil unrest, bombing, or battle.
Punishments for Iowa Theft Charges
Iowa laws set out a range of punishment for each theft offense. It is left to the judge to determine appropriate punishment for criminal charges:
Fifth-Degree Theft: Up to 30 days in county jail and a fine ranging from $65 to $625.
Fourth-Degree Theft: Up to a year of jail time and a fine ranging from $315 to $1,870.
Third-Degree Theft: Up to two years in jail and a fine ranging from $625 and $6,250.
Second-Degree Theft: Up to five years in state prison and a fine ranging from $750 to $7,500.
First-Degree Theft: Up to 10 years in state prison and a fine ranging from $1,000 and $10,000.
Civil Penalties for Theft Convictions
People who commit theft in Iowa can also be sued by the victim of the theft. These types of lawsuits are not criminal cases, and the court cannot send the thief to jail. Rather, the purpose of a civil case is to get money damages to cover the cost of the stolen goods or services.
In Iowa, civil theft cases seek the return of stolen merchandise or repayment to the victim of the value of the property. For example, for fifth-level theft of $300 or less, a shoplifter might be required to return the materials stolen, pay the store for the cost of the stolen goods, and cover the store's costs in getting the merchandise back. The costs can include court filing fees for a civil action or attorney fees incurred to file suit.
Iowa Fraud Laws
Fraud, though slightly different from theft, is definitely in the same family of crimes, and fraud laws are found in the theft statutes. Fraud is defined in Iowa as making a misrepresentation knowing that it is false. Generally, the purpose of the misrepresentation is to get someone else's money or property, or to steal services. Theft is often committed by using lies and deception to get that money or property. Just think of telephone or credit card fraud.
It is not unusual in Iowa for a defendant to be charged with both crimes, fraud and theft. For example, if someone uses another person's credit card information to buy gas, they have defrauded the person and also stolen gas, since they got it without any intention of paying for it.
Like theft laws in Iowa, fraud laws run from the least serious crime – fifth-degree fraud (defrauding someone of up to $300) – to first-degree fraud (defrauding someone of over $10,000.) Fifth-, fourth- and third-degree fraud are all misdemeanors, while second- and first-degree fraud are felonies in Iowa. They carry substantially similar penalties to the theft crimes.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.