What is Petty Theft? - Definition, Consequences & Law Video

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  • 0:03 Low Values, High Stakes
  • 1:05 Definition
  • 1:33 Examples
  • 2:27 Consequences & Law
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Schneider

Jennifer teaches critical thinking, legal writing and research, business law and justice studies courses. She has a law degree.

In this lesson, we learn about petty theft, a type of crime that is defined by the value of the property that has been stolen. We also study potential consequences and illustrative state law.

Low Values, High Stakes

It caught the nineteen year old boy's eye as he walked down the crowded and messy aisle. He had been looking for a pen in that color and style for so long. There were only two left on the shelf. The chances of him finding a way to return to this neighborhood over the next few days were slim. His hand quickly checked for loose cash in his pockets. The pockets were empty and his wallet, with his sole credit card, was at home. Out for a walk only, he hadn't brought any money along. His pocket, though empty, was deep. Almost without thinking, his hand quickly grabbed the pen and slipped it into his pocket. He kept walking, unsure of what to do next. He continued walking, felt sweat gather across his forehead, and moved towards the door of the store. The boy exited, turned and then felt a hand on his shoulder. The boy might not yet realize it, but he's about to be prosecuted for committing a petty theft, a particular type of theft crime.


If you have ever visited a local dollar store, you know one thing for sure. Everything on the shelves will be low in value. The variety can still be quite deep, but the value of each item for sale is low. In many ways, the dollar store is defined by the low value of the items it sells. Petty theft is similar.

Petty theft is an example of a theft crime that is based on, or defined by, the low value of the property that has been stolen.


Some examples of petty theft include:

  1. Shoplifting
  2. Modifying a price tag on an item available for sale
  3. Changing the packaging of an item to modify its stated price
  4. Bike theft
  5. Eating a meal in a restaurant and then leaving without paying
  6. Consuming food for sale in a store and not paying for the items
  7. Viewing a movie or play and leaving without paying for your ticket
  8. Theft of items with total dollar value that is less than $50
  9. Theft of items from a home when the offender has permission to be on the premises

Importantly, even if an individual didn't realize they were committing a theft, all of these examples are crimes that can be prosecuted. In our opening scenario, the boy was charged with shoplifting. The value of the stolen item was small, but the consequences are not.

Consequences & Law

The boy, or anyone else charged with the commission of a petty theft, should never think that just because the dollar value of the stolen items is relatively small, the consequences will be as well. Taking an item from a store shelf and not paying for the item is a form of theft. Conviction for a petty theft can have serious consequences.

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