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What is Theft by Deception?


12/18/2019

A Paoli contractor recently pleaded guilty to four counts of theft by deception after stealing approximately $500,000 from his customers. He is now facing up to 10 years in state prison.

Theft by deception is a serious crime, but it can be challenging to understand if you are facing charges. You need someone on your side who will fight for your rights. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer helps people across Pennsylvania face their charges and get the outcome they deserve. Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case and how we can help.

Theft by Deception as Defined by Pennsylvania Law

In Pennsylvania, theft is the crime of taking property that is owned by another person without their consent. Theft by deception under Pennsylvania law is the taking of property by means of the following:

  • Creating or reinforcing a false impression that affects the victim’s judgment;
  • Preventing someone from acquiring information which would affect the victim’s judgment; or
  • Failing to correct a false impression that you previously created or reinforced; or
  • Failing to correct a false impression that is influencing another person with who you have a fiduciary or confidential relationship.

To put it another way, theft by deception involves persuading someone to allow you to take property based upon a false impression.

The Element of Intent

Theft, including theft by deception, is categorized as a “specific intent” crime. This means that you must intend to permanently deprive the owner of their property by deceiving them. In other words, you cannot be convicted of theft by deception under the following circumstances:

  • You provided the owner of the property with accurate information, but they misunderstood or misinterpreted it.
  • You provided the owner with the information you had and encouraged them to get more information on their own, but they did not.
  • You did not realize that the owner was basing their decision on a false impression and therefore did not correct them.

In a theft by deception case, proving the element of intent can be quite challenging for the prosecution. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to determine whether the prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove that you intentionally committed theft by deception.

Exceptions to Theft by Deception

The statute specifically notes certain situations where you cannot be convicted of theft by deception:

  • Deception involving matters of no monetary significance – You cannot be convicted of theft by deception if you lied about something that did not affect the financial aspect of the theft in question.
  • Sales puffing – These are exaggerations intended to attract buyers. Stating that you sell the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” does not qualify as theft by deception.

Theft by Deception Can Carry Serious Consequences

As with other crimes of theft, the punishment you face if convicted will be based upon the value of the property you allegedly stole.

Property worth less than $50:

  • Third-degree misdemeanor
  • Up to one year in jail
  • Fines of up to $2,500

Property worth between $50 and $200:

  • Second-degree misdemeanor
  • Up to two years in prison
  • Fines of up to $5,000

Property worth between $200 and $2,000:

  • First-degree misdemeanor
  • Up to five years in prison
  • Fines of up to $10,000

Property worth more than $2,000:

  • Third-degree felony
  • Up to seven years in prison
  • Fines of up to $15,000

As you can see, theft crimes are taken very seriously in Pennsylvania. If you are charged with theft by deception over property worth $100, you could face up to two years in prison if you are convicted. Theft involving property worth a mere $2,000 could result in a prison sentence of several years and thousands of dollars in fines.

The Consequences Can Go Beyond Jail and Fines

Your conviction will be a part of your permanent criminal record, which is available to the public. This means that your conviction could cause significant embarrassment for you among your friends and family and the community at large.

A theft conviction can haunt you for years, even after you’ve served your time in prison and paid your fines. This is especially the case for a felony theft conviction – it could make it difficult to find a job, rent a home, or receive certain public benefits.

Possible Defenses to a Theft by Deception Charge

The prosecution has the burden of proving that you committed theft by deception – you don’t have to raise any defense. That said, a good defense can ensure that you get a fair result. Here are some of the common defenses that may apply in your case:

  • Lack of intent – We mentioned earlier that theft by deception is a specific intent crime. If you didn’t intend to deceive the owner or deprive them of their property, you cannot be convicted of theft.
  • Lack of deception – You did not deceive the owner, and they were simply mistaken or misunderstood.
  • The owner gave you their consent to take their property.
  • You took the property with the intent to return it.

Why You Should Consider Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer

Theft by deception is a complicated crime for the prosecution to prove. If you don’t have a lawyer, the prosecution has a tremendous advantage, as they are more likely to get a conviction even if their case against you is weak.

Hiring a lawyer can level the playing field. They can evaluate the evidence against you, challenge the prosecution’s case, and formulate an effective defense. An experienced criminal defense attorney will know the law and how to navigate the criminal justice process to make sure you get a fair result.

Charged with Theft by Deception? Call Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Lauren Wimmer

Theft by deception is a serious crime with very serious consequences. However, there is hope – you are innocent until proven guilty, and you are entitled to a fair result. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer will fight for your rights every step of the way. Call Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation – the sooner you contact us, the sooner we can help.