Originally a common law term, petit larceny, also called “petty” larceny, is the theft of objects of small monetary value. The offense was a lesser form of larceny, which involved the theft of more valuable property. Because the value of the stolen object is what determines whether a theft is a “petit” larceny, the offense can involve a variety of items. However, there are some common types of petit larceny.
In some common law countries, distinctions between types of larceny have largely passed from modern usage. Ireland and Wales abolished larceny as a class of offense, choosing to classify it as simply theft. However, the definition of petit larceny as a petty offense involving an object of minimal value is still in use in some US jurisdictions. Depending upon the state, the value of the item can range from a few dollars to two-hundred US Dollars (USD). Regardless of the jurisdiction, the offense is still a misdemeanor.
Petit larceny involves only the theft of personal property. The property must be capable of being possessed and carried away. The objects associated with the offense tend to be small or easily concealed. Theft is a broader term than larceny because it can involve things that cannot be possessed and carried away. It can include for instance the theft of identity, intellectual property, or even land.
Once someone takes possession of an item of personal property below a certain value and carries it away with no intention of returning it, the elements of the offense are met. The item can be almost anything, as long as it has at least some value. However, some certain types of petit larceny are widespread.
Shoplifting from stores is probably one of the most prevalent types of petit larceny. These offenses can occur in any kind of store and involve merchandise such as clothing and jewelry or food. Virtually anything that someone can conceal in her hand or on her person can be shoplifted. The problem is so prevalent in many countries that stores use surveillance cameras and security personnel to minimize losses.
With increasing fuel prices, “drive-away” theft of gasoline is becoming a common problem, especially in countries like the US where drivers pump their own gas. Many service stations require customers to pay in advance, and store clerks then turn on the gas pump from inside the store. Some service stations do this only at night, when it is harder to identify a vehicle.
Perhaps the oldest type of petit larceny and the most difficult to prevent is that carried out by “pickpockets.” These offenders operate most often in urban areas but also anywhere large crowds gather. Items taken are usually wallets, cash, and credit cards. A variation of pick pocketing is the carrying away of unattended items such as parcels, handbags and brief cases.