What Is Theft? - Definition, Laws & Punishment

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  • 0:03 Definition
  • 0:48 Laws
  • 1:11 Punishment
  • 2:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

This lesson will teach you what is considered theft. You will examine laws on theft, find out the difference between petty and grand theft, as well as read about consequent punishments.


Did you ever have your wallet stolen? How about your cell phone? It's probably one of the worst feelings to experience when you've suddenly discovered your wallet or cell phone missing. Hopefully this feeling is one unfamiliar to you, but unfortunately theft is a crime that occurs every day.

Theft is generally defined as the taking of another individual's property without his permission. Usually, the person who takes the property intends to use the property for his own use, or sell the property to another person. In addition, the person who takes the property seeks to permanently deprive the original owner of the property; in other words, he will never get his property back. Theft can include theft of property, theft of identity, theft of motor vehicles, and theft by embezzlement.


There are various laws regarding theft, and every jurisdiction has different laws. However, generally, when the value of the property taken is less than $500, the offense is referred to as petty theft. Conversely, when the value of the property taken exceeds $500, the theft is known as grand theft. The laws applicable to petty theft are less stringent than those for grand theft.

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