In Pennsylvania, it is illegal for a person to take someone else’s property without the property owner’s consent. Theft is a criminal action that is taken very seriously, and a conviction can result in major fines, jail or prison time, and various other requirements. However, criminal penalties are not the only consequences a person could face when it comes to theft. They could also be a civil case pursued by the victim of the theft. Here, we want to take a moment to more thoroughly define the difference between criminal theft and civil theft.
What is Criminal Theft?
When most people think of theft charges, they think of criminal theft. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is responsible for prosecuting theft crimes and for establishing penalties for specific types of theft. When we examine Pennsylvania Statutes Title 18 § 3921, we can see that a person will be guilty of theft if they intentionally obtain or withhold property from another through deception.
There are various penalties associated with theft in Pennsylvania. These penalties revolve around the value of the property stolen. If the value of the property is less than $50, this will be considered a summary offense. This is not considered a misdemeanor or a felony and is not actually a criminal conviction. However, it will show up on a criminal background check. A summary offense can result in a person spending up to 90 days in jail and a fine ranging from $25 to $1,500.
If the value of the property taken was more than $50 but less than $2,000, this will be charged as a third-degree misdemeanor. If a person takes something valued at more than $2,000, or if the property stolen is a vehicle, vessel, or airplane, this will be charged as a second-degree felony. If the property stolen is a firearm, it will be a first-degree felony. Charges for theft depend on the circumstances of each case, the type of property taken, and its overall value. Penalties can range from 90 days in jail for smaller offenses and up to seven years in prison for major theft offenses.
What is Civil Theft?
Civil theft is not a different type of crime. This refers to the process of the theft victims attempting to recover their lost property or the value of the property stolen from them. Instead of pressing charges, the theft victim files a lawsuit against the person allegedly responsible for taking their property. The theft victim will be seeking monetary compensation or the recovery of their stolen property.
For criminal theft convictions, the state has a responsibility to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. However, in civil cases, the plaintiff will only have to prove that the defendant more than likely took their property. This standard is known as a preponderance of evidence as opposed to proving something beyond a reasonable doubt.
If a person is found guilty in civil court for theft, they will not face criminal penalties, such as prison or jail time. However, it is important to point out that civil lawsuits and criminal cases are two separate processes. A victim can pursue a civil case even if a criminal case is ongoing for the same exact theft offense.