The Difference Between Theft & Aggravated Theft

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In legal parlance, the term “aggravated” basically means “enhanced” or “severe.” Aggravated assault is a more severe charge than simple assault, aggravated manslaughter is a more severe charge than manslaughter, and aggravated theft is a more severe charge than theft.

The difference between a charge and its aggravated version is generally the value of the property involved in the offense or the severity of the harm dealt to the victims – however, this is not always what separates theft from aggravated theft. In some cases, the difference is whether a weapon was present during the commission of the alleged offense or the identity or status of the victim.

For example, an act that would typically be charged as an act of assault may be charged as aggravated assault in some jurisdictions if the victim of the alleged offense was a police officer, first responder or government figure. With theft charges, an act of theft that would otherwise be charged as a simple theft could be instead charged as aggravated theft if the victim was a government agency or if a specific item, like a motor vehicle, was stolen.

What Is Theft?

Theft is the action of intentionally taking money or property from a victim without permission and with no intention of ever returning it to her. Theft comes in many forms, such as:

  • Shoplifting, the act of stealing merchandise from a store.
  • Identity theft, the act of stealing a victim’s credit card or personally identifying information with the intention of using it to make purchases with the victim’s money or credit.
  • Robbery, the act of using a threat or force to steal from a victim .
  • Fraud, the act of stealing from victims through deception.
  • Embezzlement, the act of taking money or assets that you've been entrusted to manage and keep safe.

Although burglary is often associated with theft, a burglary charge is not a theft charge. Burglary is the act of unlawfully entering a building or a portion of a building with the intent to commit a criminal offense while inside, which could be an act of theft but could also be any other illegal act, such as vandalism.

Because there are so many types of theft offense, there are many different types of charge for them. However, most jurisdictions also have a charge simply known as theft. This charge may also be known as larceny. Typically, there are numerous degrees at which this offense can be charged, and in some jurisdictions, these various degrees have different names. For example, the theft of property valued at less than $1,000 is charged as petit larceny in New York.

Read More: Mail Theft Laws

What Is Aggravated Theft?

Aggravated theft refers to severe theft offenses. Other names for an aggravated theft charge include grand theft and grand larceny.

The criteria that separates theft from aggravated theft varies from state to state. Generally, this criteria includes a monetary value for the assets stolen, specific assets stolen and specific victims the assets are stolen from. To qualify as an act of aggravated theft, an incident must only meet one of these criteria. Specific criteria used in state aggravated theft statutes other than the value of the money or assets stolen include:

  • Theft of property owned by law enforcement or other government agencies.
  • Acts of theft committed as part of organized crime ring.
  • Use of a deadly weapon to commit the theft.
  • Theft of specific deadly items, like weapons and the chemical ingredients for making illicit substances.

In California, grand theft is called a wobbler, which means it can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances at play in the case. These circumstances include the defendant’s criminal history and specific circumstances in the case such as how the alleged theft was committed and the nature of the assets allegedly stolen.

Theft and Aggravated Theft Charges

Theft can be charged as a misdemeano_r or a _felony. In less severe cases, the penalties an individual faces for a misdemeanor theft charge include restitution, community service and/or relatively minor fines. In contrast, aggravated theft is always a felony charge in most jurisdictions.

In Ohio, aggravated theft is defined as the theft of any money or property valued at $150,000 or more or if the property stolen was a firearm or anhydrous ammonia. This offense is also known as theft in the third degree, and it is a felony charge. In contrast, an act of theft is deemed an act of aggravated theft in Oregon if the property stolen was worth $10,000 or more unless it was a non-commercial motor vehicle.

Ohio’s aggravated theft charges do not end with aggravated theft in the third degree. Like many other states, Ohio’s laws designate multiple degrees of aggravated theft, the most severe of which is a felony of the first degree. An individual can face this charge for allegedly stealing $1,500,000 worth of property or services. If convicted, she faces three to 11 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Theft and Aggravated Theft Penalties

The penalties for aggravated theft vary from state to state and among the different charge levels defendants face for this offense. Sometimes, specific circumstances about an offense determine the penalties a convicted defendant faces for an act of aggravated theft. One example of an offense’s circumstances impacting the convicted defendant’s penalties is Oregon law’s requirement that if the victim of an act of aggravated theft was 65 years old or older at the time of the offense, the defendant must spend a term of 16 to 45 months in prison. For an act of aggravated theft against an individual under age 65, a defendant can potentially face up to 10 years in prison alongside a fine of up to $250,000.

Generally, penalties for individuals convicted of aggravated theft include substantial fines, prison time and probation. They may also include restitution payments to victims, depending on the jurisdiction where the case is handled and the circumstances of the individual case. Being convicted of a felony carries additional long-term penalties like losing the right to vote in federal elections in many states, losing the right to own firearms and the right to serve on a jury.

Accepting Plea Bargains

In some cases, an individual may “plead down” an aggravated theft charge to a standard-level theft charge. This is known as accepting a plea bargain, which is a process through which the court offers a criminal defendant the option to plead guilty to a lesser offense than the one he is facing. By doing this, the court is able to remove the case from its docket, and the defendant is able to avoid the more severe penalties he would face if he were found guilty of aggravated theft. However, he loses the opportunity for the court to find him completely innocent.

Taking a plea bargain can mean significantly reducing or even completely avoiding prison time, facing much lower fines, and avoiding having a felony conviction on his criminal record.