Larceny and theft by conversion are both accusations of stealing. The primary difference is in how the theft occurs. In larceny, someone takes property from another person without having permission to do so. Theft by conversion works a little differently. In that case, someone takes property from another person but with permission or knowledge for one purpose and then either refuses to give it back or converts what the property is used for without permission. Property can be money, a car, land, services or any other tangible item.
Larceny Happens Without Permission
Larceny is a criminal offense in almost every state and can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on that state's guidelines. In some jurisdictions, the dollar value of whatever was stolen determines whether it is a felony or not.
In all case, larceny means that the victim did not get physically hurt or threatened. For example, stealing a ring out of a friend's drawer while there visiting would be larceny. If you pointed a gun at the ring owner and took it, many states would classify that as a robbery – typically a much more serious charge - and possibly aggravated robbery (for using a gun). Shoplifting can also be considered larceny. It is the act of stealing from someone or an entity without harm or force.
To be convicted of larceny you must have illegally taken property owned by someone else and carried it away without permission. The intent must be to deprive the victim of the property permanently. A conviction for larceny can carry a sentence of incarceration, probation/parole, monetary fines or any combination of the three.
Conversion vs Theft Means Permission was Initially Given
Any time you receives permission to use a person's property for a specific purpose, and you use for another reason, you could find yourself charged with theft by conversion meaning you stole it by not sticking to what the owner allowed.
Theft by conversion means you took got permission to take property/money, etc. for one purpose and instead converted it to use for something else. Because permission was given to remove the property, it doesn't fall under the guidelines for larceny, but because the owner did not authorize the ultimate use of the property it is considered theft by conversion.
Examples of theft by conversion help make it easier to understand.
- Someone rents a car and when the rental period is up, he or she refuses to return it and instead keeps it and uses it as his or her own.
- An investor gives someone money to invest in a specific business or invention, etc. Instead of using the money for what the investor was told, the person holding the money uses it to pay personal bills, or invest in a different business or goes on vacation or any other purpose except what was promised.
Each state decides what sentence guidelines to put in place for this criminal offense which can include incarceration, probation/parole, fines/fees or a combination of these options.
Civil Suit is an Option for Theft by Conversion
Theft by conversion can also be tried in a civil court instead of a criminal court. The victim might choose to sue the person for restitution rather than file a criminal complaint. In the case of civil court, the petitioner does not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did it. It only has to be proven by a “preponderance of the evidence” that the defendant probably did it.
I spent more than a decade sitting in courtooms every day as a court beat journalist. That experience honed my skills to write anything related to the law whether civil, criminal, family or probate court. I took that experience and began shadowing parole and probation officers, police officers and attorneys to increase my level of expertise in the legal writing field. Today, I am a full-time content writer in all things legal.