Consolidated Theft: Definition & Statutes

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet

Kenneth has a JD, practiced law for over 10 years, and has taught criminal justice courses as a full-time instructor.

Historically, theft has been defined based on the type of property taken. In this lesson, we will define what a consolidated theft statute is and look at its real-world application.

Is It Theft?

Jan works in the mailroom of an investment company and saw that her neighbor Suzi was to receive $100,000 in bearer bonds but that the address on file for Suzi was mistakenly Jan's address. Jan waits until the day of delivery and then accepts the package from the postal carrier. She cashes the bonds and pockets the money.

Suzi is furious when she finds out what happened and calls the local district attorney to prosecute Jan, but the prosecutor says that there is no theft statute that specifically covers what Jan did. Is this right? How can Jan take Suzi's property and not be charged with theft?

Specialized Theft Statutes

Traditionally, non-violent theft laws were categorized into three specialized theft laws: larceny, embezzlement and false pretenses. These were based on the manner in which the property was taken, and each addressed a specific, specialized set of circumstances. These typically carried specific attendant circumstances that were necessary to prove that crime.

Attendant circumstances are a part of a statute that is separate from the general elements of a crime and requires a very specific set of circumstances to be present before there can be a conviction. An example is a burglary statute that requires a person to break into a dwelling for the purposes of committing a felony at night.

The 'at night' is an attendant circumstance because it is separate from the general elements of breaking into a dwelling with the intent to commit a crime. The 'at night' was put in there to protect people sleeping in their homes and were thus more vulnerable. However, 'at night' is just as required to prove burglary as any of the other elements.

The elements of specialized theft statutes are:

Larceny

  1. The unlawful taking and carrying away;
  2. Of someone else's property;
  3. Without the consent of the owner; and,
  4. With the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property.

Embezzlement

  1. The property belongs to someone other than the accused;
  2. The accused had a right to possess the property;
  3. The accused must be in a trust relationship with the original owner of the property.

False Pretenses

  1. The accused made a false representation;
  2. Of a material past or existing fact;
  3. Which the person making the representation knows is false;
  4. Made for the purpose of causing, and does cause, the passing of title to the property.

Consolidated Theft Statute

A consolidated theft statute rolls all these crimes into one crime that would address the taking of any property by several means. It makes the application of the theft laws fit more broad circumstances and prevents someone from evading a charge of theft because the attendant circumstance wasn't there or couldn't be proven.

The Model Penal Code (MPC) is a compilation of statutes written by scholars and experts to be used as a modern guide for legislatures and academia. Each state's legislature can adopt these laws as their own, change them or ignore them as they see fit. The MPC has proposed the following consolidated theft statutes:

Consolidated Theft

  • Movable property

A person is guilty of theft if they:

  1. Unlawfully take;
  2. Or exercise unlawful control over;
  3. Movable property of another;
  4. With the purpose to deprive them thereof.
  • Immovable property

A person is guilty of theft if they:

  1. Unlawfully transfer,
  2. Immovable property of another or;
  3. Any interest therein,
  4. with the purpose to benefit themselves
  • Theft by deception

A person is guilty of theft by deception if they:

  1. Purposely obtain property of another by deception,
  2. Purposefully create a false impression, including false impressions as to law, value, intention or other states of mind.

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