Theft Crimes

Theft in Minnesota covers a wide range of crimes beyond simply taking physical property without the owner's permission. Falsifying a medical claim, finding lost items and not making a justifiable attempt to return them, and presenting certain kinds of misleading information are all types of theft. Just like in other jurisdictions, accusations of theft in Minnesota are 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, their corresponding penalties, and possible defenses. Our team of criminal defense experts at Ringstrom Law is available to help clients who are facing theft charges, whether that is taking the case to trial or negotiating a favorable resolution. 

What is Considered Theft Under Minnesota Law?

The Minnesota statute for theft, 609.52, encompasses a variety of actions, including the following: 

  • Knowingly using, transferring, hiding, or keeping ownership of property belonging to someone else, having in mind to permanently deprive the owner of the property (in other words, what is most commonly thought of as theft) 
  • Taking or driving someone’s vehicle without getting permission from the owner 
  • Gaining ownership or custody of services or property through false representation (for example, intentionally submitting an inaccurate medical reimbursement claim)
  • Leasing or renting personal property (such as a vehicle) but not returning it or not paying agreed-on fees
  • Committing cable TV piracy 
  • Finding lost or misplaced property but refusing to make a reasonable attempt to return it to a known rightful owner

What is the Difference Between Theft and Robbery?

People often use the terms "theft" and "robbery" interchangeably, as they both entail taking someone else’s property or money without their permission. However, there are fundamental differences between these terms. 

Robbery is a more serious offense because it involves 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 theft, either using bare hands or weapons like knives, also counts as robbery. Theft is a catch-all term that covers many criminal acts, such as shoplifting, stealing someone's purse on a train, refusing to pay a hotel bill, or acquiring property through fraudulent means. This crime usually involves three key elements:

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

More specific kinds of theft recognized in Minnesota include the following:

Identity Theft

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. This could be the victim’s name, Social Security number, credit card number, or another personal detail. The purpose is to defraud and this can be achieved by various means, such as receiving medical treatment in someone else’s name or using their credit card to make purchases. 

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

False accusations of identity theft can be made when the alleged victim has dementia or another form of memory loss and cannot recall giving another person access to their personal information, or when the alleged victim does remember giving access but regrets doing so. Whether you believe an accusation against you to be true or false, the attorneys at Ringstrom Law will help you get the best outcome possible if you are charged with this type of theft. 

Embezzlement

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

Fraud

There are many different types of fraudulent actions, such as mortgage fraud, telemarketing fraud, mail fraud, tax fraud, and credit card fraud. In these situations, a person can be successfully convicted of fraud if the case meets certain criteria, including someone falsely representing an existing or past material fact (knowing of the falsity) and another person suffering damage as a result. Minnesota historically used an 11-part fraud test first formulated by Justice Harry Blackmun, but today uses a simpler test to determine if fraud has occurred. 

Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties in Minnesota 

The state of Minnesota categorizes theft crimes based on the dollar amount of the property or services that were stolen and on 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:

Misdemeanor Theft Crimes

Misdemeanors theft crimes entail stealing goods or services valued at less than $500. For those convicted of theft at this level, the punishment can include 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

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

Felony Theft Crimes

Felony theft exists when the value of the property at issue exceeds $1,000. Punishment for felony theft can involve going to jail for up to 20 years. 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. Unsurprisingly, the penalties and assessments increase as the value of stolen property or services increases. 

  1. Property Valued at Less than $500

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. §609.52 Subd. 3(5), a person who is found guilty of petty theft may receive a sentence of up to 90 days in jail. The sentencing judge may also ask them to pay a monetary fine of a maximum of $1,000. Therefore, for the paragraph below, please insert it after the sentence "The presiding judge may also require you to pay substantial fines".

  1. Property Valued at $500 to $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 Minn. Stat. § 609.52 Subd. 3(4). Alternatively, the culprit will pay a fine of a maximum of $3,000, or the judge can impose both types of punishment. 

  1. Property Value of $1,000 to $5,000

When the value is more than $1,000 but not higher than $5,000, the crime of theft entails 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. Other examples of theft crimes that carry this same potential penalty include

  • Stealing a motor vehicle
  • Stealing a controlled substance classified as Schedule III, IV, or V. Some examples of common substances are ketamine (Schedule 3) and tramadol (Schedule 4)
  • Taking property or services valued at more than $500 but less than $1,000, and the offender has a conviction of a similar crime within the last five years. The offender may have committed the prior offense inside Minnesota or another state.
  • Stealing property valued at not more than $1,000 but taking it from a deceased body or its coffin or grave.
  • Stealing property from a scene of increased citizen vulnerability, such as the scene of a bombing or riot
  • Stealing court records 
  1. Stolen Property is Worth More than $5,000

Crimes where the stolen property or services have a value of 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 may levy both penalties. Theft offenses at this level also include

  • Stealing a trade secret (e.g. an employee selling the formula for her employer's product to a competitor)
  • Stealing an explosive or bomb for terrorist activities or other purposes
  • Stealing a Schedule I or II controlled substance (marijuana is not included in these schedules)
  1. Stolen Property Worth More than $35,000

More serious than any of the four theft categories above is the theft of goods or services worth over $35,000. This level of theft is punishable by a prison sentence of a maximum of 20 years, a fine of up to $100,000, or both penalties. Apart from the $35,000 threshold, stealing a firearm of any value carries the same potential sentence. 

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, as outlined in Minn. Stat. 604.14. The offender 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, he or she must reimburse the retail cost of the item as indicated by the store during the theft. In addition to the value of the property, the offender will face punitive damages of $50 or no more than 100 percent of the property's value, whichever figure is higher. 

This statute does contain a provision that both payment and nonpayment of these civil penalties are excluded forms of evidence for any criminal case connected to the theft. In other words, if you reimburse someone for a stolen item and pay the damages, that fact can’t be raised to suggest your guilt if you go to trial for the theft. This rule of evidence helps illustrate why hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney is important when you have been charged with theft: this rule and others like it are not always obvious to those who aren’t experts in criminal law. 

How Do Prior Convictions Affect Current Theft Charges?

If the value of the stolen items lies between $500 and $1,000, someone who has been convicted of theft-related crimes in the last five years is subject to harsher sentencing than someone who has committed their first such offense, or for whom five years have elapsed. This outcome applies whether the previous offense happened in the state of Minnesota or elsewhere, even in another country. 

In regard to taking a theft case to trial, prior convictions—whether for theft, fraud, or other crimes—are very likely to influence the jury’s view of the defendant. It is critical to keep prior convictions from being mentioned at trial, and a skilled criminal defense attorney will know how to accomplish this. 

What are the Possible Defenses for Theft Crimes in Minnesota?

  1. You Can Claim of Right of Ownership

A common line of defense in theft-related accusations is to claim you have a right to the property or service at issue. Of course, this argument will only hold if you can establish a valid explanation of why the property you took belonged to you, or why you believed it did. 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. If the purse were shown to be similar enough to one you own and lack identifying details or contents tying it to someone else, this defense might be plausible. 

This defense strategy is not as easy as merely claiming you assumed the item was yours. But if there seems to be a path forward with this type of defense, Ringstrom Law attorneys will help you gather and present convincing evidence to increase your chances of defeating the charge.  

  1. You Intended to Return the Property

Returning stolen goods or repaying stolen services will not necessarily deter the owner or the government from leveling theft charges against you. Nevertheless, this ameliorating action may show you in a more sympathetic light, causing the prosecutor or judge to view the case less harshly and decrease the penalties and assessments in your criminal case.

In certain circumstances, it may also be helpful to show that you had merely borrowed the property in question, had every intention to return it, and were in a position to do so. You could also claim you forgot to return the property after use. As with claiming a right of ownership, it is always better to present corroborating evidence to support this type of defense, such as a credible witness who can testify that you asked to borrow a vehicle in order to return property. 

  1. You Were Intoxicated at the Time

Intoxication is not straightforward defense in Minnesota criminal court. Even if you can provide strong evidence that you were intoxicated during an act of alleged theft, it does not automatically follow that you are not guilty. Rather, intoxication can only be considered by a jury when part of their job (as given to them in instructions by the judge) is to determine the defendant’s intention or state of mind. 

Another thing to consider is that while claiming intoxication can be a valid defense, public intoxication is itself a criminal offense, which means you might face criminal charges if the theft occurred in a public place. An attorney from Ringstrom Law can examine the details of your case and advise if this line of defense can work for you or not.

  1. Entrapment by Someone Else

Though entrapment as a defense to theft is rare, in our many years of practice Ringstrom Law has encountered vulnerable clients who committed crimes due to entrapment. This occurs when someone persuades another person to take property or use a service and not pay for it, only so that they can have you arrested. This line of defense applies only when the idea to steal comes from a member of law enforcement. 

For example, a security guard could convince a homeless person to enter a grocery store, hide food in their clothing, and walk out without paying for the food. The guard could then investigate the theft and call the police to make an arrest. This type of set-up may be concocted as a means to remove homeless people from the premises because they are considered to be an eyesore.

Finding a Theft Defense Attorney Near Me

If you find yourself facing theft charges in Minnesota, you are at risk of jail or prison time and having to pay fines to the court. Of even greater concern, in some instances, is that having a criminal record with theft almost invariably taints someone as an employee; those convicted of theft may find themselves fired from their current job and unable to secure other jobs. Skillful representation is essential so that you can avoid the harshest court penalties and collateral consequences. Ringstrom Law has accumulated a wealth of experience helping clients facing theft charges. Contact us at 218-284-0484 and we can start discussing possible defenses and strategies. 

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

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