Theft Crimes

Theft in Minnesota covers a wide range of crimes, and it goes beyond taking something without the owner's permission. Falsifying a medical claim, finding lost items and not making a justifiable attempt to return them, and presenting misleading information all qualify as theft. Just like in other jurisdictions, theft in this state is met with the full force of the law, and this often means jail time if there is a conviction.

In this article, we examine the various scenarios that constitute theft in Minnesota and their corresponding penalties. Our team of legal experts at Ringstrom Law is available to help clients who are facing theft charges in this state.

What is Considered Theft Under Minnesota Law?

Several actions are considered as theft under the Minnesota criminal statutes. A person is said to commit an act of robbery under Minnesota law when they:

  • Knowingly make, use, transfer, hide, or keep ownership of property belonging to someone else, to deprive the owner of the property permanently.
  • Deliberately deprives another person of a rightful charge for cable television or telecommunications service
  • Takes a car or drivers a car without getting explicit permission from the owner (Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.52 Subd. 2.)
  • Gain ownership, custody, or title to services or property through false representation
  • Submit a fraudulent medical claim
  • Leases or rents personal property (e.g., a vehicle) but does not return it or at least pay an equitable amount of the said property is lost or stolen
  • Find lost or misplaced property but refuses to make a reasonable attempt to return it to the rightful owner

What is the Difference Between Theft and Robbery?

It is not atypical to find people use the terms "theft" and "robbery" interchangeably as they both entail taking someone else's property or money without their permission. Nonetheless, there are fundamental differences between these terminologies. 

Robbery is a more serious offense as it comprises the use of force such as storming into a bank and firing guns to scare customers and employees into submission. Assaulting a victim in the commission of a robbery, either using bare hands or other weapons like knives, also counts as robbery. Theft or larceny is a catch-all term that covers many criminal acts, such as stealing someone's purse on a train and shoplifting. This crime usually involves three key elements:

  • Taking something without the owner's explicit permission
  • Carrying the said property away from its rightful place
  • The intention to retain ownership of this property permanently

Larceny goes beyond physical items like vehicles to stealing services by refusing to pay for them. For example, ignoring your electric, gas, and internet bills to never pay constitutes theft. The same charge applies when someone refuses to pay for restaurant or hotel services like room and board.

Other kinds of theft recognized in Minnesota include the following:

Identity theft is common in Minnesota and around the country. This crime happens when someone knowingly assumes another person's identity by using their identifying information. These could be their name, Social Security Number, credit card number, or other personal details to defraud them, such as receiving medical treatment in their name.

Tell-Tale signs of identity theft include receiving calls for debts that don't belong to them, not getting their regular mail, merchants declining their checks, or unexplained bank withdrawals. Once they report these anomalies to the authorities, an investigation will ensue to catch the alleged identity thief.

This crime refers to stealing or mishandling money that was entrusted to you by an employer or other entity like a charity organization. The perpetrator usually withholds assets so that they can convert them for personal gain. Embezzlement is a form of financial fraud and is punishable by law in Minnesota.

There are many instances of fraudulent actions such as mortgage fraud, telemarketing fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, credit card fraud, and such. In these situations, a person is successfully convicted of fraud if the case meets the following criteria:

  • Someone must falsely represent material evidence now or in a previous time
  • The person making the false assertion must be aware of it, or they are ignorant of the truth of the assertion
  • There must be an intention to justify the claimant to act in such a manner
  • The claimant must have been forced to commit these acts justified by the falsified representation
  • The claimant must have suffered damage as a result of this misrepresentation.

The above five-past test is applied in modern times, having been narrowed down from the original 11-part fraud test first formulated by Justice Harry Blackmun.

Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties in Minnesota

The state of Minnesota categorizes theft crimes as per the dollar amount of the property or services that were stolen. In other cases, such criminal acts are classified as per the type of property in question. In this section, we take a closer look at the various categories of theft under Minnesota law, starting with three broad categories:

Misdemeanors theft crimes entail stealing goods or services valued at less than $500. If convicted, the punishment usually includes serving a jail sentence of 90 days or paying a fine of up to $1,000. The judge may also impose both penalties.

Gross misdemeanor theft crimes occur when the stolen property is valued anywhere between $500 to $1,000. Punishment for this offense may include serving a jail sentence for one year, paying a maximum fine of $3,000, or both as per the uniqueness of your case.

Felonies exist when the value of the property at issue exceeds $1,000. Punishment for felony theft can involve going to jail for one year or more, including serving a life sentence. The presiding judge may also require you to pay substantial fines.

In this section, we discuss particular theft crimes based on the value of property or services stolen and their accompanying penalties in the Minnesota statutes.

This category, otherwise known as petty theft, is the lowest level theft offense in Minnesota, and it happens when the value of the stolen property or services is not more than $500. According to Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.52 Subd. 3(5), a person who is found guilty of petty theft receives a sentence of up to 90 days. The presiding judge may also ask them to pay a monetary fine of a maximum of $1,000.

If the value of stolen goods or services is more than $500 but not exceeding $1,000, such an offense is punishable by imprisonment of not more than twelve months. This punishment is outlined in the Minnesota statutes § 609.52 Subd. 3(4). Alternatively, the culprit will pay a fine of a maximum of $3,000, or the judge will impose both punishments.

If the value of stolen goods or services is more than $500 but not exceeding $1,000, such an offense is punishable by imprisonment of not more than twelve months. This punishment is outlined in the Minnesota statutes § 609.52 Subd. 3(4). Alternatively, the culprit will pay a fine of a maximum of $3,000, or the judge will impose both punishments.

The penalties and assessments increase as the value of stolen property or services increases. When the value is more than $1,000 but not higher than $5,000, this crime of theft attracts a sentence of imprisonment of up to five years. The person may also be ordered to pay a fine of not more than $10,000, and in some cases, both penalties apply. Examples of theft crimes of this magnitude include:

Stealing a controlled substance classified as a Schedule III, IV, or V. The Food and Drug Administration classifies common drugs as follows: Ketamine (Sch. 3), tramadol (Sch. 4), marijuana (Sch. 5), while others like Propofol remain unscheduled.

Taking property or services valued at more than $500 but less than $1,000, and the culprit has a conviction of a similar crime within the last five years. They may have committed the offense inside Minnesota or another state.

The stolen goods are valued not more than $1,000, and they were taken from a deceased person like a grave or coffin. Statutes § 609.52 Subd. 3(3) also covers property that was taken during a riot or disaster or automobiles. The same applies if whatever property was taken is a matter of court record.

Crimes, where the stolen property or services is worth more than $5,000, attract a prison sentence of a maximum ten years.  Alternatively, the judge may order you to pay a maximum fine of $20,000, or both. Theft offenses at this level also include:

  • Stealing a trade secret, e.g., an employee selling the formula to their employer's product to a competitor
  • Taking an explosive or incendiary device for terrorist activities or otherwise
  • Theft of Schedule I or II controlled substances as per article § 609.52 Subd. 3(2) of Minnesota law. Marijuana is not included in this category.

Out of the four theft crimes discussed above, taking goods or services worth above $35,000 is considered as a heinous crime.  As such, this crime is punishable by a prison sentence of a maximum of 20 years. Alternatively, the judge could impose a fine of $100,000, or both penalties. Theft offenses in this category include the following acts:

  • Stealing goods or services worth more than $35,000 with specific aggravating factors therein such as fraud, deception, or a vulnerable adult like a senior citizen.
  • Article § 609.52 Subd. 3(1) states that stealing a firearm of any value falls under this level of crime in Minnesota.

Civil Penalties for Theft in Minnesota

A person who commits a theft in Minnesota is not only subject to the criminal penalties outlined above but also civil liabilities. The culprit is deemed civilly liable to the rightful owner for an amount equivalent to the dollar value of the property when the offense took place. If it is a shoplifting offense, they will reimburse the retail cost of the item as indicated by the store during the theft.

They will also face punitive damages worth $50 or no more than 100 percent of the property's value, whichever is figure higher. The Minn. Stat outlines these additional civil liabilities. Ann. § 604.14 and must be considered in every theft case.

How Do Prior Convictions Affect Current Theft Charges?

Someone who was convicted of theft-related crimes in the last five years is subject to harsher sentencing than one who committed their first offense. Any additional theft charge involving goods or services worth more than $1,000 but not higher than $5,000 is detrimental. If convicted, the person faces a prison sentence of not more than five years, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. 

Please note, this outcome applies whether the previous offense happened in the state of Minnesota or elsewhere, as per Minn. Stat. Ann. § 609.52, Subd. 3(3)(c).

The prosecutor will enhance penalties if there is a foreseeable risk of causing bodily harm. For instance, stealing from a grocery store exposed the owner to physical damage because they can fight back.

What are the Possible Defenses for Theft Crimes in Minnesota?

The most common line of defense in theft-related accusations is to claim you have the right to the said property or service. However, your argument will only hold if you can prove there was good faith that the property you took belonged to you. This assertion would mean you had a valid claim to collect this property and keep it. For instance, if you mistakenly collected a purse from a park bench where you were previously seated, you could claim you thought the bag belonged to you.

The purse may be similar to someone else's bag who also sat at the same park bench, but you were unaware of this fact. Nonetheless, this defense strategy is not as easy as merely claiming you assumed the item was yours. Ringstrom Law Attorneys will require you to provide convincing evidence so they can present this to the judge and help you win the case.

Returning the stolen goods cannot necessarily deter the owner from leveling theft charges against you. Nevertheless, this noble action serves to show you, the accused, in a more sympathetic light so the prosecutor can rule less harshly. If things go well, there could be an invitation to negotiate a plea deal, which will then lessen the penalties and assessments in your criminal case.

You can also prove you had merely "borrowed" the property in question and had every intention to return it, and was in a position to do so. You could also claim you forgot to return the property after use. For instance, borrowing your neighbor's lawn mower then forgetting to return it for a week until they file charges and the police come knocking at your doorstep.

If a defendant can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were impaired at the time of said theft, the prosecutor will have no recourse but to drop the case. You may have consumed alcohol, prescription drugs, or controlled substances when you committed the crime. We shall argue that you were mentally impaired and, therefore, did not take the property or service knowingly.

Perhaps the high alcohol content in your bloodstream led you to believe the item you stole belonged to you mistakenly. Please remember, while claiming intoxication is a valid defense, public intoxication is a criminal offense by itself, which means you will face criminal charges. Your Ringstrom Law attorney will examine the details of your case and advise if this line of defense can work for you or not.

As your defense attorneys, we can purport that someone persuaded you to take the property or use the service and not pay for it, only so they can have you arrested. This line of defense usually applies when the idea to steal came from the entrapping person – such as a member of law enforcement. In our many years of practice, Ringstrom Law has encountered many vulnerable clients who committed crimes due to entrapment.

For example, a security guard could convince a homeless person to enter a grocery store and hide food in their clothing and walk out without paying for them. If the alarm sounds at the door, the guard will conduct a search and seizure as part of their job and call the police to make an arrest. This act may have been done to remove the homeless person from the premise as they consider them an eyesore, or for sheer fun with total disregard of another person's welfare.


Finding a Theft Defense Attorney Near Me

If you find yourself facing theft charges in Minnesota, the chances are that you could wind up in prison and have to pay fines to the court. Having a criminal record will taint your resume, and you may find yourself fired, or unable to secure specific jobs. Skillful representation is essential, so you can avoid harsh penalties and assessments like serving jail time. Ringstrom Law has accumulated a wealth of experience helping clients like you facing theft charges. Contact us at 218-284–0484, so we can start discussing possible lines of defense.

MN criminal defense attorneys Bruce Ringstrom Jr. & Bruce Ringstrom Sr.

Bruce Ringstrom Jr. & Bruce Ringstrom Sr.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in MN & ND

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  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
  • State Bar Association of North Dakota
  • Minnesota State Bar Association Criminal Law

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