Thefts are classified as -crimes of moral turpitude,- a category that includes murder, rape, incest and child abuse. The courts have defined a crime of moral turpitude as -conduct that shocks the public conscience as being inherently base, vile, or depraved, contrary to the rules of morality.- For this reason, if you are ever charged with theft, it is critical to retain the services of an experienced lawyer.
Petty vs. Grand
Thefts are generally divided into two main categories - grand theft and petty theft. Grand theft is a felony, usually punishable by jail time, and petty theft is a misdemeanor. The difference between the two is usually the dollar value of the item stolen, although some states consider it an automatic felony to steal a credit card, gun, car or telephone, regardless of its value. The threshold for a felony is usually between $500 and $1,000, but in some states it is as low as $200, so stealing the same item in different states can result in radically different penalties. However, although being convicted even of petty theft may translate into little more than a fine and some community service, if you are an adult, it stays on your record for life, visible to any prospective employer, potential date, friends, relatives, neighbors - everyone.
Various Kinds of Thefts
Many types of crimes classify as thefts besides grand larceny and petty larceny, including shoplifting, concealment, receiving stolen goods, fraud, burglary and embezzlement. Occasionally, a person may commit one of these crimes unintentionally. For instance, forgetting to pay for an item before you leave a store, being with a group of people whom you are unaware are shoplifting, or buying an item online or on the street that you don't know had been stolen all classify as thefts. Having a knowledgeable lawyer on your side at this time is invaluable, and may make the difference between a minor brush with the law and being a convicted criminal for life.
If you are not a U.S. resident, convictions for crimes of moral turpitude usually result in forfeiture of your green card and/or visa, and deportation, preventing you from ever being eligible for U.S. citizenship. If you hold a professional license, such as in law or medicine, your license could be jeopardized by a conviction like this. If you are called upon to testify in a trial, the lawyer may tell the jury about your conviction, calling your testimony into question and possibly invalidating it. It is sometimes possible to get your record expunged (wiped out) but it's a difficult process and there are never any guarantees. A conviction, even for a misdemeanor, can prevent you from getting a job, a loan to buy a home or car, or serving in the armed forces.
Facing a charge of a crime of moral turpitude is very serious under any circumstances, and if you have been arrested for theft, don't take any chances - be sure to have an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side.