What Are the Essential Elements of Theft
Theft offenses are some of the most common types of misdemeanor and felony criminal charges. The seriousness of a New Mexico theft crime can vary, depending on the type of theft, the amount, and the defendant’s criminal record. In New Mexico, theft is referred to as “larceny.” The legal definition of larceny is “the stealing of anything of value that belongs to another.” While this seems pretty easy to grasp, New Mexico acknowledges many different types of theft crimes. Understanding the differences between these offenses is important to effectively defend against them.
Before getting into the various types of New Mexico theft crimes, it is important to understand the basic elements of theft, generally. Every crime has specific elements that must be met. It is the prosecution’s burden to present evidence supporting each element beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution cannot do this, the defendant must be found not guilty. Thus, understanding the elements of a New Mexico theft offense is crucial.
To better understand the elements of a New Mexico theft crime, let’s take a look at the legal definition: “the stealing of anything of value that belongs to another.” The elements of a theft charge are contained in the legal definition. So, when broken down, the elements are:
- Taking the property of another;
- Without that owner’s permission;
- With the intent to permanently deprive the owner.
Again, before a judge or jury can convict a defendant, there must be evidence of each element. If one element is missing, there can be no conviction and the defendant will be acquitted.
For example, assume Joe and Terry go out to dinner. It’s raining, so Joe grabs an umbrella as the couple walks out the door. Once they arrive at the restaurant, Joe shakes off the umbrella and puts it in a box that the restaurant placed at the front of the door to keep wet umbrellas. The couple enjoys their dinner, pay, and then head home. On the way out the door, Joe grabs what he thinks is his umbrella, but, as it turns out, it was another customer’s umbrella that looked just like Joe’s.
Here, there is little doubt that Joe did not commit a theft. Taking a look at each of the elements:
- Taking the property of another: This element is met. Joe took an umbrella that did not belong to him.
- Without the owner’s permission: This element is also met. Joe did not have the other customer’s permission to take the umbrella.
- With the intent to permanently deprive the owner: This element is not met. While Joe took an umbrella that was not his without permission, he did so on accident. Thus, he had no intent on permanently depriving the owner of the umbrella.
In this example, a judge or jury could not find Joe guilty of theft. This example also raises an important point about criminal offenses, in general. For the most part, New Mexico criminal law does not employ “strict liability.” This means that almost every crime contains both an “act” element and an “intent” element.
In the context of a theft crime, the act element involves a defendant taking something that does not belong to them. The intent element requires that the defendant knew that the object was not theirs and that they intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property. Note that the law does not require a defendant to intend to keep the object for themselves; the intent to take an object and then sell it, or give it away, would also constitute theft.
Gradations of New Mexico Theft Offenses
As mentioned above, there are several types of theft crimes in New Mexico, all of which are classified as “larceny.” All New Mexico larceny offenses are contained in N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-16-1. The seriousness of a theft charge depends primarily on the value of the property at issue. Below is a list of the various gradations of larceny in New Mexico:
Misdemeanor petty theft: The value of the property is $250 or less. Misdemeanor petty theft is punishable by a term of incarceration of up to six months.
Misdemeanor theft: The value of the property is between $250.01 and $500. Misdemeanor theft is punishable by a term of incarceration of up to one year.
Fourth-degree felony theft: The value of the property is between $500.01 and $2,500. Fourth-degree felony theft is punishable by a term of incarceration of up to 18 months.
Third-degree felony theft: The value of the property is between $2,500.01 and $20,000; Third-degree felony theft is punishable by a term of incarceration of up to three years.
Second-degree felony theft: The value of the property is over $20,000; Second-degree felony theft is punishable by a term of incarceration of up to nine years.
It is also important to note that certain theft offenses, including those involving firearms, can carry additional penalties.
Specific Types of New Mexico Theft Crimes
Thus far, we’ve discussed the concept of theft in general. However, New Mexico criminal law provides for a variety of specific theft crimes. These include:
- Credit card theft
- Skipping out on a restaurant check or bar tab
- Identity theft
- Receiving stolen property
This is just a partial list, as there are many other types of New Mexico theft offenses. Because theft crimes are often complex, it is important for anyone facing these serious allegations to reach out to a dedicated defense attorney for immediate assistance.
Contact an Experienced Defense Law Firm
If you have recently been charged with a New Mexico theft crime, contact the aggressive defense attorneys at the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices. At our firm, we proudly represent clients facing all types of serious felony and misdemeanor theft crimes, standing up for their rights at every stage in the process. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you are facing, and to schedule a free consultation with an experienced defense attorney, give us a call or contact us through our online form.