Larceny is a crime involving the wrongful acquisition of the personal property of another person. It was an offence under the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 of England and became an offence in jurisdictions which incorporated the common law of England into their own law. It has been abolished in England and Wales
England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...

, Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

 and the Republic of Ireland
Republic of Ireland
Ireland , described as the Republic of Ireland , is a sovereign state in Europe occupying approximately five-sixths of the island of the same name. Its capital is Dublin. Ireland, which had a population of 4.58 million in 2011, is a constitutional republic governed as a parliamentary democracy,...

. It remains an offence in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 and New South Wales
New South Wales
New South Wales is a state of :Australia, located in the east of the country. It is bordered by Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to the north, south and west respectively. To the east, the state is bordered by the Tasman Sea, which forms part of the Pacific Ocean. New South Wales...

, Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, involving the taking (caption) and carrying away (asportation) of personal property
Personal property
Personal property, roughly speaking, is private property that is moveable, as opposed to real property or real estate. In the common law systems personal property may also be called chattels or personalty. In the civil law systems personal property is often called movable property or movables - any...



The word larceny is a late Middle English word, from the Anglo-Norman word larcin, or theft. Its probable Latin root is latrocinium, a derivative of latro, robber (originally mercenary soldier).

Republic of Ireland

The common law offence of larceny was abolished on 1 August 2002. However, proceedings for larceny committed before its abolition are not affected by this.

England and Wales

The common law offence of larceny was codified by the Larceny Act 1916
Larceny Act 1916
The Larceny Act 1916 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Its purpose was to consolidate and simplify the law relating to larceny triable on indictment and to kindred offences ....

. It was abolished on 1 January 1969, for all purposes not relating to offences committed before that date. It has been replaced by the broader offence of theft
In common usage, theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud...

 under section 1(1) of the Theft Act 1968
Theft Act 1968
The Theft Act 1968 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It creates a number of offences against property in England and Wales.On 15 January 2007 the Fraud Act 2006 came into force, redefining most of the offences of deception.-History:...

. This offence did incorporate some of the terminology and substance of larceny.

Northern Ireland

The common law offence of larceny was abolished on 1 August 1969, for all purposes not relating to offences committed before that date. It has been replaced by the broader offence of theft
In common usage, theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud...

 under section 1(1) of the Theft Act (Northern Ireland) 1969
Theft Act (Northern Ireland) 1969
The Theft Act 1969 is an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland. It makes similar provision to the Theft Act 1968 for Northern Ireland.-Section 11 - Removal of articles from places open to the public:...


United States

In the United States, larceny is a common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

Crime is the breach of rules or laws for which some governing authority can ultimately prescribe a conviction...

 involving theft
In common usage, theft is the illegal taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent. The word is also used as an informal shorthand term for some crimes against property, such as burglary, embezzlement, larceny, looting, robbery, shoplifting and fraud...

. Under the common law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

, larceny is the trespass
Trespass is an area of tort law broadly divided into three groups: trespass to the person, trespass to chattels and trespass to land.Trespass to the person, historically involved six separate trespasses: threats, assault, battery, wounding, mayhem, and maiming...

ory taking (caption) and carrying away (asportation, removal) of the tangible personal property of another with the intent to deprive him or her of its possession permanently. In almost all states, it has become a statutory crime
Statutory law
Statutory law or statute law is written law set down by a legislature or by a legislator .Statutes may originate with national, state legislatures or local municipalities...

 through codification.

Possession versus custody

Larceny is a crime against possession. Larceny involves the trespassory taking of possession of personal property from another person. As Dressler notes, to understand larceny one must understand the distinction between custody and possession. A person has possession of property when he has actual physical control over the property (actual possession) or he has the right to exercise considerable control over the disposition or use of the property (constructive possession). A person has custody if he has actual physical control of the property but the person who has constructive possession has substantially restricted the custodian right to use the property. Examples of custody would be a store customer examining the goods of a merchant, an employee who has been given the property of his employer to be used in his employment and a person who has obtained actual possession of the property by fraud.


The taking or caption element requires that the offender take actual physical control of the property, if but for a moment. Under the
common law, it was not sufficient if the offender simply deprived the victim of possession; the offender must have gained control over the property. Thus merely knocking an article from a person’s hand was not larceny if the defendant did not thereafter find it.

The control must be complete. In a famous case, the defendant removed an overcoat from a department store mannequin and began to walk away with it. The overcoat was secured to the mannequin by a chain, a fact the defendant first discovered when the chain drew taut. These actions were held not to be larceny because the defendant never had complete control over the disposition and use of the coat.

The taking may be only momentary. In another famous case, the defendant snatched an earring from the victim which immediately became entangled in the victim’s hair. The court held that the defendant's control over the property, although momentary, was sufficient to constitute a taking.

The taking may be either direct or indirect; that is, accomplished by the criminal himself or an innocent agent.

The equivalent term "deprive" is also sometimes used:

Carry away

The thief must not only gain dominion over the property but must also move it from its original position. The slightest movement, a hair's breadth, is sufficient. However, the entirety of the property must be moved. As LaFave noted critically this requirement is the difference between rotating a doughnut (larceny) and rotating a pie (not larceny), as all of the doughnut is moved through rotation while the pie's exact center remains in the same place when rotated. The movement must also be an actual asportation, rather than movement in preparation. For example, in one case the victim had left his wheelbarrow
A wheelbarrow is a small hand-propelled vehicle, usually with just one wheel, designed to be pushed and guided by a single person using two handles to the rear, or by a sail to push the ancient wheelbarrow by wind. The term "wheelbarrow" is made of two words: "wheel" and "barrow." "Barrow" is a...

 in his yard. As was his custom he turned the wheelbarrow upside down to avoid water collecting in the tub. The defendant intending to steal the wheelbarrow turned it over but was apprehended by the owner before he could push the wheelbarrow away. The court held that the defendant's acts did not satisfy the asportation element of larceny because the movement of the wheelbarrow had merely been preparatory to the carrying away.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary that the property be removed from the owner’s premises or be taken off his property for an asportation to be complete. The slightest movement from its original position with the intent to steal is enough. The problem is proof. If a person picks up a package of steaks intending to steal them then changes her or his mind and puts the steak back in the meat counter, the crime of larceny has been committed but the state will have a difficult time proving it. However, if the thief conceals the steaks by sticking them inside clothing, his or her intent is rather clear. Of course, there could still be an innocent if bizarre explanation.

Personal property

From its creation the subject matter of larceny has been tangible personal property, with a physical existence: items that can be seen, held, and felt (or in technical terms, property that has a “corporeal existence”).

This limitation means that acts of common-law larceny cannot be committed against land
Real property
In English Common Law, real property, real estate, realty, or immovable property is any subset of land that has been legally defined and the improvements to it made by human efforts: any buildings, machinery, wells, dams, ponds, mines, canals, roads, various property rights, and so forth...

 or items attached to or forming part of land, such as buildings, tree
A tree is a perennial woody plant. It is most often defined as a woody plant that has many secondary branches supported clear of the ground on a single main stem or trunk with clear apical dominance. A minimum height specification at maturity is cited by some authors, varying from 3 m to...

s or shrub
A shrub or bush is distinguished from a tree by its multiple stems and shorter height, usually under 5–6 m tall. A large number of plants may become either shrubs or trees, depending on the growing conditions they experience...

bery, crops growing in the field, or mineral
A mineral is a naturally occurring solid chemical substance formed through biogeochemical processes, having characteristic chemical composition, highly ordered atomic structure, and specific physical properties. By comparison, a rock is an aggregate of minerals and/or mineraloids and does not...

s. acts of common law larceny cannot be committed against intangible things, such as love
Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, "God is love" or Agape in the Canonical gospels...

 or affection
Affection or fondness is a "disposition or rare state of mind or body" that is often associated with a feeling or type of love. It has given rise to a number of branches of philosophy and psychology concerning: emotion ; disease; influence; state of being ; and state of mind...

, identity (identity theft
Identity theft
Identity theft is a form of stealing another person's identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, typically in order to access resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name...

 is a type of fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

), or intellectual property
Intellectual property
Intellectual property is a term referring to a number of distinct types of creations of the mind for which a set of exclusive rights are recognized—and the corresponding fields of law...

, such as information and ideas. For example, if a person stole the Coca-Cola formula
Coca-Cola formula
The Coca-Cola formula is The Coca-Cola Company's secret recipe for Coca-Cola. As a publicity, marketing, and intellectual property protection strategy started by Robert W...

, the crime would be larceny but the grade of the offense would be determined by the value of the paper on which the formula was recorded not the value of the recipe. (Theft of trade secret
Trade secret
A trade secret is a formula, practice, process, design, instrument, pattern, or compilation of information which is not generally known or reasonably ascertainable, by which a business can obtain an economic advantage over competitors or customers...

s would be a different offense).

Services and labor, as well as intangible personal property (incorporeal rights) such as contract
A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

 rights and choses in action, wills
Will (law)
A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his/her estate and provides for the transfer of his/her property at death...

, codicils
Codicil (will)
A codicil is a document that amends, rather than replaces, a previously executed will. Amendments made by a codicil may add or revoke small provisions , or may completely change the majority, or all, of the gifts under the will...

, or other testamentary documents; wild animals and items having no economic value cannot be the subjects of acts of common-law larceny.

Note: Most states have enacted statutes to expand the coverage of larceny to include most if not all of the items mentioned above. For example, North Carolina has statutes that make it a crime to steal choses in action, growing crops and so on.

The restriction of the scope of larceny to personal property may have practical consequences. For example, a person may "steal" a central air conditioning unit by cutting the connections to the house, removing the unit from its concrete pad and hauling the disconnected unit away in a truck. In most jurisdictions, a central air conditioning unit changes from personal property to real property (a fixture) once it is attached to a building. Modernly, severance of a fixture from the realty would convert the fixture from real property back to personal property. However, the common law stated that if the severance and carrying away of a fixture were one continuous act, no larceny would occur.

The defendant's actions in this example would thus merely constitute damage to real property, and would further not result in possession of stolen property since no larceny had taken place.

Of another

The property taken must be "of another". Thus wild animals cannot be stolen. Nor can co-owners be guilty of larceny. Larceny is a crime against possession. Therefore, it is possible for the person who has title to the property to steal the property from a person who had lawful possession. For example, states provide that a person who repairs a car had a lien
In law, a lien is a form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt or performance of some other obligation...

 on the car to secure payment for the work. The lien is a possessory lien meaning the repair person has the lien as long as he maintains possession of the car. If the title owner were to take the car from the lienholder this action could be prosecuted as larceny in some jurisdictions.

Without consent

The taking must be trespassory that is without the consent of the owner. This means that the taking must have been accomplished by stealth, force, threat of force, or deceit. If the offender obtained possession lawfully then a subsequent misappropriation is not larceny.

Intent to steal (animus furandi)

The offender must have taken the property with the intent to steal it. Traditionally intent to steal is defined as the intent to deprive the owner of the possession of the property permanently. "Permanently" means indefinitely that is with no plan to return the property to the rightful owner. However, intent to steal includes other states of mind such as the intent to recklessly deprive the owner of the property permanently.

A person who takes property of another under the mistaken belief that the property belongs to him does not have the requisite intent to steal. Nor does a person "intend to steal" property when he takes property intending to make temporary use of it and then return the property to the owner within a reasonable time. However, it is not a defense that the defendant did not know that the property belonged to the true owner only that he knew that it did not belong to him.

The object stolen must have value

Larceny protects the possession of goods – objects that have economic value. A good has economic value if it has a price; that is, the property can be sold in a market. There are objects that have no economic value and thus are not subject to larceny. Some goods are "free", such as the air we breathe, objects that could not sell at any price, or could not be given away. Examples abound - leaves that have fallen from trees, garbage, dirty diapers, the contents of a septic tank. There are few rational people
Reasonable person
The reasonable person is a legal fiction of the common law that represents an objective standard against which any individual's conduct can be measured...

 who have a desire to buy such things.

Under New York law, written instruments, utility services
Energy law
Energy laws govern the use and taxation of energy, both renewable and non-renewable. These laws are the primary authorities related to energy...

, and items of unascertainable value have special rules, and for grand larceny in the fourth degree, a motor vehicle
Motor vehicle
A motor vehicle or road vehicle is a self-propelled wheeled vehicle that does not operate on rails, such as trains or trolleys. The vehicle propulsion is provided by an engine or motor, usually by an internal combustion engine, or an electric motor, or some combination of the two, such as hybrid...

 must have value of $100 or greater. Otherwise, value is defined generally as:

Grand larceny

Grand larceny is typically defined as larceny of a more significant amount of property. In the US
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, it is often defined as an amount valued at $
United States dollar
The United States dollar , also referred to as the American dollar, is the official currency of the United States of America. It is divided into 100 smaller units called cents or pennies....

400 or more. In New York, grand larceny refers to amounts of $1,000 or more. Grand larceny is often classified as a felony
A felony is a serious crime in the common law countries. The term originates from English common law where felonies were originally crimes which involved the confiscation of a convicted person's land and goods; other crimes were called misdemeanors...

 with the concomitant possibility of a harsher sentence
Sentence (law)
In law, a sentence forms the final explicit act of a judge-ruled process, and also the symbolic principal act connected to his function. The sentence can generally involve a decree of imprisonment, a fine and/or other punishments against a defendant convicted of a crime...

. In Virginia the threshold is only $5 if taken from a person, or $200 if not taken from the person. The same penalty applies for stealing cheques as for cash or other valuables.

Some states (such as North Carolina
North Carolina
North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern United States. The state borders South Carolina and Georgia to the south, Tennessee to the west and Virginia to the north. North Carolina contains 100 counties. Its capital is Raleigh, and its largest city is Charlotte...

) use the term "felonious larceny" instead of grand larceny.

The classification of larceny as grand or petit larceny originated in an English statute passed in 1275. Both were felonies. However, the punishment for grand larceny was death while the punishment for petit larceny was forfeiture of property to the crown and whipping. The classification was based on the value of the property taken. The offense was grand larceny if the value of the property taken was greater than twelve pence, approximately the value of a sheep in the thirteenth century.

Most jurisdictions have discarded the grand/petit terminology and use value to classify larcenies as felonies or misdemeanors. "Value" means the fair market value of the property at the time and place taken. Most jurisdictions also make certain larcenies felonies regardless of the value of the property taken. For example, North Carolina General Statutes Section 14 - 72 (b)(1) makes the crime of larceny a felony "without regard to value" if the larceny is (1) from the person (2) committed pursuant to certain types of breaking or enterings (3) of any explosive or incendiary device or (4) of any firearm. The modern spelling is petty larceny for the misdemeanor level. Some states may also charge certain types of larceny as "robbery", "burglary", "theft", "shoplifting", "conversion", and other terms.

The subject matter of larceny

As noted above one cannot steal items “affixed to the earth” because such things are not personal property. However, one of the remarkable qualities of property is its shiftiness; its ability to change its character often and quickly, from real to personal and from personal to real.

The principal methods of achieving this transformation are attachment and severance. If personal property is attached to land, it becomes real property. And if real property is severed from the land (rendered unattached) it becomes personal property. Examples abound. A person buys a furnace. The furnace company dispatches a technician to deliver and install the heating system. Before installation the heating system is personal property. It has corporeal presence and it can be moved around as witnessed by the fact that the technician picked it up at the warehouse, loaded it into his truck, drove it to the house, unloaded it, placed it in the basement and hooked it up to the house. The “hooking up” is the act that transformed what was personal property to real property. Once it is installed it has become “attached to the land” (the house) and is now considered real property. The attachment to the house has to be more than casual for personal property to become real property. For example, a table lamp that is plugged into a wall socket is not real property. A window air conditioning unit is not real property.

Larceny versus embezzlement

Embezzlement is the act of dishonestly appropriating or secreting assets by one or more individuals to whom such assets have been entrusted....

 differs from larceny in two ways. First, in embezzlement, an actual conversion must occur; second, the original taking must not be trespass
Trespass is an area of tort law broadly divided into three groups: trespass to the person, trespass to chattels and trespass to land.Trespass to the person, historically involved six separate trespasses: threats, assault, battery, wounding, mayhem, and maiming...

ory. To say that the taking was not trespassory is to say that the person(s) performing the embezzlement had the right to possess, use, and/or access the assets in question, and that such person(s) subsequently secreted and converted the assets for an unintended and/or unsanctioned use. Conversion requires that the secretion interferes with the property, rather than just relocate it. As in larceny, the measure is not the gain to the embezzler, but the loss to the asset stakeholders. An example of conversion is when a person logs checks in a check register
Check register
A check register is a booklet used to record account transactions....

or transaction log as being used for one specific purpose and then explicitly uses the funds from the checking account for another and completely different purpose.

It is important to make clear that embezzlement is not always a form of theft or an act of stealing, since those definitions specifically deal with taking something that does not belong to the perpetrator(s). Instead, embezzlement is, more generically, an act of deceitfully secreting assets by one or more persons that have been entrusted with such assets. The person(s) entrusted with such assets may or may not have an ownership stake in such assets.

In the case where it is a form of theft, distinguishing between embezzlement and larceny can be tricky. Making the distinction is particularly difficult when dealing with misappropriations of property by employees. To prove embezzlement, the state must show that the employee had possession of the goods "by virtue of her employment"; that is, that the employee had the authority to exercise substantial control over the goods. Typically, in determining whether the employee had sufficient control the courts will look at factors such as the job title, job description and the particular employment practices. For example, the manager of a shoe department at a store would likely have sufficient control over the shoes that if she converted the goods to her own use she would be guilty of embezzlement. On the other hand, if the same employee were to steal cosmetics from the cosmetic counter the crime would not be embezzlement but larceny. For a case that exemplifies the difficulty of distinguishing larceny and embezzlement see State v. Weaver, 359 N.C. 246; 607 S.E.2d 599 (2005).

Larceny by trick

Using a trick, such as lying, to get possession of property is larceny.
Larceny by trick is descriptive of the method used to obtain possession.

The concept arose from Pear’s Case decided in 1779. The issue was whether a person who had fraudulently obtained possession of personal property (a horse) could be convicted of larceny. The chief impediment to conviction was the doctrine of possessorial immunity which said that a person who had acquired possession lawfully, that is with the consent of the owner, could not be prosecuted for larceny. Clearly the owner of the horse had given the defendant possession of the animal – he had agreed that the defendant could borrow the horse to ride to Surrey. The case would seem to have been cut and dried – the doctrine of possessorial immunity applied and the defendant was therefore not guilty of larceny. The court held that consent induced by fraud was not consent in the eyes of the law. The fraudulent act that induced the owner to transfer possession “vitiated” the consent. This concept of consent broadened the scope of larceny. Before, consent meant the voluntary relinquishment of possession and thus property was wrongfully taken only if the defendant acquired possession by stealth, force or threat of force.

Larceny by employees

An employee is generally presumed to have custody rather than possession of property of his employer used during his employment. Thus the misappropriation would be larceny. However, officers, managers and employees who have significant authority over the disposition or use of the employer’s property have possession rather than custody and the misappropriation of the property would likely be embezzlement rather than larceny. Determining whether an employee has custody or possession can be difficult. A careful examination of the employee’s duties and responsibilities, his authority over the property and the actual business practices is required.

If a third party transfers possession of property to an employee for delivery to his employer, the employee has possession of the property and his conversion of the property would be embezzlement rather than larceny. For example, if a customer of a bank delivers money to a teller to deposit in the customer’s account, the teller had possession of the property and his misappropriation would be embezzlement rather than larceny. However, once the teller transfers possession of the money to his employer, by placing the money in the till for example, the subsequent taking would be larceny rather than embezzlement. This rule does not apply if the teller intending to steal the property places the money in the till merely as a temporary repository or to hide his peculation.

Aggregation issues

Thievery may well involve many items of personal property stolen from multiple victims. Questions arise as to whether such situations are to be treated as one large theft or multiple small ones. The answer depends on the circumstances. If a thief steals multiple items from one victim during a single episode the courts doubtlessly would treat the act as one crime. The same result would obtain if the thief stole items from the same victim over a period of time on the grounds that the stealing was pursuant to a common scheme or plan. The effect would be that the state could aggregate the value of the various items taken in determining whether the crime was a felony or misdemeanor. Such a result would not always work to the criminal’s detriment. Aggregation is also generally permitted when the thief steals property from multiple victims at the same time. For example a thief steals “rims” from several cars parked in the same lot. On the other hand, aggregation is not permitted when a thief steals items from various victims at different times and places.
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