Theft, Burglary & Robbery Defense
Do you know the difference between burglary, trespass, robbery, larceny (theft), simple theft, grand theft, and receiving stolen property? Because the police sure do, and they may be coming for you. If you have been arrested and charged with burglary, trespass, robbery, theft, retail theft (commonly called shoplifting) or receiving stolen property, contact the Philadelphia criminal defense Lawyers at The Zeiger Firm. Our criminal defense attorneys understand the differences between these crimes and will zealously defend you against these charges.
Brief Overview of Pennsylvania Theft Law
In Pennsylvania, a person is guilty of theft if he unlawfully takes or exercises unlawful control over someone else’s movable property, with the intent of depriving that person of the property. There are numerous types of theft in Pennsylvania, and they differ from offenses such as burglary and robbery because they don’t involve trespass or threats to others. In understanding the nature of property-based offenses, which includes theft, burglary, and robbery, it is important to understand how the law classifies different types of property. Generally, the term “property” means anything of value, including but not limited to, the following:
- Real estate;
- Tangible personal property – which means property that has a physical form, i.e., a car or a necklace;
- Intangible personal property – which is personal property that does not have a physical form, including patent rights, life insurance benefits, securities, partnership interests, and copyrights;
- Contract rights;
- Inheritance interests;
- Event tickets;
- Food and drink; and
- Electrical power and utilities.
“Movable property” includes any type of property that can change location, including documents even though the rights inherent in the contact cannot be physically moved. Anything that is not included in this category is considered immovable property, which would include your home.
The term “deprive” means that you withheld the property either permanently or for such an extended period of time that it loses most of its value. You are also considered to have the intent to deprive someone of property if you only intend to return the property in exchange for something else, such as money, return of your own property, or an action, or you dispose of the property such that the owner is unlikely to be able to recover it.
Types of Theft in Pennsylvania
There are numerous types of theft offenses in Pennsylvania, and if you are unsure why you’ve been charged with a certain one, the attorneys at the Zeiger Firm can analyze the facts of your case so you understand your options. The first type of theft is the one we typically think of when we hear the term; it is called “theft by unlawful taking.” You are guilty of this crime if you take movable property without permission and with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of the property. It is also theft by unlawful taking if the property is immovable and you transfer or exercise unlawful control over the property.
Theft by Deception
“Theft by deception” is another type of theft, and you are guilty of this crime if you obtain or withhold the property of another by deception. The difference between theft by taking and theft by deception is that when it comes to theft by deception, the owner is actually giving you control of the property but under deceptive circumstances. An example would be if you pretended to be a jewelry cleaner to obtain possession of someone’s ring, and then you do not return it. Theft by deception includes, but is not limited to:
- Creating or reinforcing a false impression as to the law, the item’s value, or your intention for the item;
- Preventing the owner or another from gathering information that would affect his or her judgment, i.e., Googling the item’s value; or
- Failing to correct a false impression that you created or reinforced.
An example of when you may be faced with a factual situation that can trigger this type of theft would be at a garage sale. Let’s say you know a lot about books and notice a very rare and expensive book being sold for $1. If you were to buy the book at $1 without asking any questions, this would not be considered theft by deception. However, if the book was not priced and you insisted to the owner that the book was only worth $1, you have created a false impression as to the item’s value, and this could be considered theft by deception. There is a specific exemption to this type of theft written into the Pennsylvania code for situations involving “puffing,” which is when you are making general statements unlikely to deceive an ordinary person in order to induce them to sell something to you. This could include something along the lines of saying, “if you sell me this book, all your dreams will come true!” Because the ordinary person should be aware this is not true, it is not theft by deception if the item is sold to you based on that statement.
Theft by Extortion
The next type of theft is called “theft by extortion,” which essentially means blackmail. A person is guilty of theft by extortion if he or she obtains or withholds the property of another by threatening to one or more of the following:
- Commit a criminal offense, i.e., give me $1000 or I will put a virus on your computer;
- Accuse someone of a criminal offense;
- Expose a secret that would lead to your ridicule, hatred, or contempt;
- Take or withhold official action, i.e., if you’re the mayor and you tell a homeowner that if he doesn’t pay you $1000, you won’t grant his building permit;
- Bring about or continue a strike, boycott, or collective unofficial action if property is not received. This does not include a unionized boycott for higher wages, but it would include a hospital staff refusing to open the hospital doors unless they are each paid $2,000 in cash;
- Testify or refuse to testify in a legal action; or
- Inflict harm, but not violent or physical harm.
There are also some statutory defenses to theft by extortion if you are accused of threatening to expose a secret or crime in order to obtain property. It is a complete defense to prosecution if these kinds of threats are honest because you are owed the property, i.e., you were supposed to be sold the property under a contract and the owner refused to sell it to you. In this case, if you threaten to sue the owner if he doesn’t sell the car to you, this is not theft. The attorneys at the Zeiger Firm can analyze this defense to determine whether the facts of your case support your entitlement to assert a claim over the property you are accused of stealing.
Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property
Although we may not want to admit it, there is also a type of theft called “theft of property lost, mislaid, or delivered by mistake.” If you come across property, i.e., $100 on the sidewalk, that you know someone must have lost, then it isn’t actually yours to take. You must take reasonable steps to restore the property to the rightful owner under Pennsylvania law, which can include filing a report with the police and waiting a certain amount of time before you can claim the property as your own. Mislaid property is similar to lost property except that in such cases the owner typically placed the property there, i.e., put her wedding ring on the bathroom sink to wash her hands, but forgot to take it when she left.
Again, you must take reasonable steps to restore the property to the owner, but what constitutes “reasonable” is up for debate, and it is something that the attorneys at the Zeiger Firm can argue for on your behalf. For example, if you went throughout the whole building where the ring was left to see who owned it and left your number with management, if you sell the ring after 30 days and then someone calls claiming it was her ring after that, are you guilty of theft? Should you have filed a police report, or did you do enough? These are the questions that the attorneys at the Zeiger Firm will ask the judge and jury to consider as a means of defeating a necessary element of the crime and getting your charges dismissed.
Receiving Stolen Property
A person is guilty of receiving stolen property if he intentionally receives, retains, or disposes of another person’s movable property knowing that it has been stolen, or believing that it has probably been stolen. You are actually considered guilty of theft itself if you intentionally receive, retain, or dispose of movable property from another if you know that it was stolen or believe it was probably stolen. However, it is not a crime to do so if it is your intent to restore it to the rightful owner. When it comes to receipt of stolen property, intent is key. For example, if you go to a garage sale and purchase a watch with no reason to believe it was stolen, you are not guilty of receiving stolen property. But if you go to a small garage sale, see a new Rolex, and have every reason to believe that the watch was stolen, you may be guilty of theft unless you take the watch to the police or file a report in an attempt to locate its proper owner. If you believe you have been implicated in a theft ring, the attorneys at the Zeiger Firm can work to show that you did not have the requisite intent to receive the stolen property or that it was always your intent to try and find the true owner.
These are the major types of theft, but there are a plethora of other classifications of theft that are criminal in nature. These include shoplifting, theft of services, failure to properly deliver funds, library theft, theft of trade secrets, theft of leased property, theft from a motor vehicle, theft of secondary metal, and unauthorized operation of a motor, air, or maritime vehicle. Of these, it is important to note that you can steal “services,” i.e., walking out of a haircut without paying, and you can “steal” leased property, such as a car you have lawful possession of, if you treat and dispose of it as if you owned it. A person is guilty of shoplifting or retail theft if he takes possession of, carries away or transfers any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail store with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of the merchandise without paying the full retail value. Shoplifting also includes altering or removing any labels, price tags, or any other markings and attempting to purchase the merchandise personally or in conjunction with another person at less than the full retail value and with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of the merchandise.
Pennsylvania Burglary Law and Defenses
Believe it or not, burglary is not a theft offense. Rather, it is a trespass offense with the added factor that the person trespassing must have had the intent to commit a crime on the property. Although burglary is often associated with the eventual crime of theft, as set forth above, if you enter the property with the intent to commit any crime, it can be considered burglary. There are four main types of trespass that can lead to a burglary charge:
- You enter a building or structure meant for overnight accommodation and someone is present in the building or someone is present and your threaten harm;
- You enter a building meant for overnight accommodation even when no one is present;
- You enter a building not adapted for overnight accommodation and someone is present; or
- You enter a building not adapted for overnight accommodation and no one is present.
This list covers the majority of burglary situations, but your attorneys at the Zeiger Firm can argue that a specific area was not a “structure” within the meaning of the statute or that you did not have the requisite criminal intent. Further, there are three main statutory defenses to a burglary prosecution that your attorney will work to see if you fit within:
- The building or the structure was abandoned, which your attorney can argue the premises fell within the definition of;
- The premises is open to the public; or
- You were licensed or privileged to enter, i.e., you stole something from a friend’s house that you had been invited to.
There is also another important legal defense when it comes to a burglary charge that attorney Brian Zeiger knows how to apply. Because burglary itself is a first-degree felony, you may not be sentenced both for burglary and for the offense that it was your intent to commit, i.e., the one that makes it a burglary charge as opposed to a simple trespass charge. The only exception is if the offense you committed that acted as the base for the burglary was a first or second-degree felony. For example, if you entered the property and committed murder, you can be charged with and sentenced for both burglary and murder. However, if you entered the property to steal a small television, then you can be sentenced for either burglary or the theft but not for both. This is an important distinction, and attorney Brian Zeiger may be able to get one or more of your charges dropped if the prosecutors have applied the law incorrectly.
Pennsylvania Robbery Law and Defenses
Of all theft-related crimes, robbery is the most serious. There are two main types of robbery in Pennsylvania – general robbery and robbery of a motor vehicle, i.e., “grand theft auto.” Generally, a person is guilty of the more serious crime of robbery if, in the course of committing a theft, he causes bodily injury to another person or threatens another person or intentionally places another person in fear of immediate serious bodily injury. More specifically, taking any of the following actions in the course of committing one of the theft crimes as articulated above is considered a robbery:
- Inflicts serious bodily injury upon another;
- Inflicts any type of bodily injury upon another;
- Threatens another with an injury or puts him in fear of an imminent injury;
- Commits or threatens to immediately commit any felony of the first or second degree;
- Physically takes or removes property from the person by force, even if it’s only slight force. This means pickpocketing might actually qualify as robbery; or
- Takes or removes money from a bank without permission, i.e., via letter or demand to the teller, even if no violence is imminently threatened.
It is important to note that, if you do any of these things when fleeing after the attempted commission of the underlying crime or you tried and failed to commit the underlying crime, it is still considered a robbery.
Robbery Sentencing Guidelines
Depending on the facts and circumstances of the robbery, it can be considered a first, second, or third-degree felony. If you inflict bodily injury on another but it is not a “serious” injury, for example, you scratch them when taking the item, then this is a second-degree felony. Further, if you attempt to rob a financial institution but you do so without threatening anyone with harm or putting him or her in fear of the same, this is also a second-degree felony. Second-degree felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in prison if there are no additional aggravating circumstances. A pickpocketing type felony, where you physically remove something from the body of another by even slight force, is a felony in the third degree punishable by up to 7 years imprisonment. Examples of this would include purse snatching, where even if the owner is holding the purse loosely and it only takes a slight tug to remove it, this would still be considered force.
Pickpocketing may also qualify depending on the facts and circumstances of your case, even though the goal in such cases is not to apply significant force so that the person is unaware of the theft. In these cases, the attorneys at the Zeiger Firm may be able to argue that the removal was so slight it did not require even slight force and the offense should be downgraded.
All other types of robberies listed above are considered felonies in the first degree, and they are separated by the threat of serious bodily injury or death. An armed robbery, whether using a gun, knife, or even a fake gun or knife, is almost always going to be charged as a felony in the first degree, which is punishable by up to life in prison. Further, this is only for the robbery charge itself. If you actually inflicted any type of harm on the other person the government will likely also bring aggravated assault and battery charges as well as theft charges if you managed to steal the item. All of these charges may compound, as the state is typically looking to charge you with the maximum amount of crimes that fit the behavior so as to either scare you into pleading guilty or putting you in prison for the maximum amount of time. If you’ve been hit with a series of criminal charges stemming from a single event, the attorneys at the Zeiger Firm know how to work with Philadelphia prosecutors to get those charges reduced and/or dismissed depending on the nature of the offense.
Defenses to Theft, Burglary, and Robbery
As specified herein, there are some statutory defenses to theft, robbery, and burglary written directly into the Pennsylvania penal code. The attorneys at the Zeiger Firm will always strive to see if any of these statutory defenses apply to the facts and circumstances of your case, but even if they do not, there are still other legal defenses that they can argue for on your behalf. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Self-defense and defense of a third-person – i.e., I’m tackling you to get your gun and protect myself and others;
- Prevention of a serious crime – i.e., assaulting a bank robber to get his gun;
- Necessity – I need your purse because it has medication in it that will save a life;
- Duress – this is when you commit a criminal act because you are told if you do not do it, you will immediately be killed or harmed;
- Involuntary intoxication – This is common if you are given the wrong type of medication or are given something like a date rape drug without knowing that you have been drugged, and you rob someone as a result;
- Insanity – If you meet the legal definition of insanity such that you didn’t know what you were doing was wrong or were hallucinating such that you didn’t know what you were doing at all;
- Entrapment – this means that you were induced to commit the crime by law enforcement, i.e., the scene was set so that you found yourself in a situation in which the crime was committed that you would not have set up on your own; and
- Infancy – Children under the age of 7 are typically not considered to have enough intent to be convicted of a crime.
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyers at The Zeiger Firm understand the laws, rules, and procedures necessary to defend clients charged with burglary, robbery, theft, stealing, retail theft, shoplifting or receiving stolen property, and we fight to obtain the best results for our clients. We advocate zealously, never forgetting that our most important goal is obtaining the best results for our clients, whether that means fighting procedural battles or representing our clients before a judge or jury. We work hard for our clients, explaining their options and keeping them updated on the status of their cases.
Contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Zeiger Immediately
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney to defend you when you have been arrested and charged with burglary, robbery, theft, stealing, retail theft, shoplifting or receiving stolen property, contact The Zeiger Firm, who represent every client zealously in order to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at 215-546-0340 or send us an email via the form below.