Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

Larceny, in simple terms, is the crime of stealing. It involves unlawfully taking someone else’s property with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of it. Picture this: if someone snatches a phone from a table and plans not to return it, that’s larceny. This crime does not involve breaking into a house or using force; it’s just about taking what isn’t yours without permission.

Harm Prevention Through Anti-Larceny Laws

Larceny laws are meant to protect people’s rights to their property. When someone steals, they’re not just taking an item; they’re shaking the foundation of trust and safety in society. Imagine if everyone just took what they wanted! There would be chaos. So, these laws try to prevent that disorder by punishing those who take without asking. Plus, they also help victims feel that justice is being served, which is super important for a peaceful society.

Classification of Larceny in Legal Codes

In many legal codes, larceny is considered a property crime. It’s often categorized by the value of the stolen property. For example, stealing something worth $500 might be “petty larceny,” but taking something worth $5,000 could be “grand larceny.” The higher the value, the more serious the crime and the harsher the possible punishment.

Larceny in the Broader Criminal Offense Categories

Larceny is a crime against property, not people. It doesn’t involve hurting someone physically; it’s about taking stuff that isn’t yours. However, it can sometimes overlap with other types of crimes. For instance, if someone steals and then sells the stolen goods, that could also be considered fraud.

Historical Background of Larceny

The concept of larceny has been around for ages. Ancient laws, like the Code of Hammurabi, had rules against stealing. In medieval England, common law started shaping the modern idea of larceny. Sir William Blackstone, a famous legal scholar, defined it in the 1700s as “the wrongful or fraudulent taking and carrying away, by any man, of the personal goods of another.” That definition laid the groundwork for how we understand larceny today. Throughout history, societies have always seen the need to protect property and have created laws to punish those who take what isn’t theirs.

Model Penal Code Definition of Larceny

The Model Penal Code (MPC), a significant influence on modern criminal law, offers a comprehensive take on larceny. Section 223.2 of the MPC defines larceny or theft as the unlawful taking, obtaining, or withholding of someone else’s property with the intent to deprive the owner of it. This includes instances where an individual takes property, believing it is likely stolen or illegally obtained.

Under the MPC, larceny encompasses several methods of property acquisition, from deception to lost property. The code specifies that even if a person comes across something that’s lost, they might be guilty of larceny if they don’t try to return it to its owner. This inclusive approach by the MPC marks a significant evolution from the narrower definitions seen in common law.

Furthermore, the MPC sets out distinct degrees of theft based on the property’s value and nature. Theft of items valued above a certain amount, or of inherently valuable items like cars or firearms, is treated more seriously, often as a felony.

Defenses in Larceny According to the MPC

Interestingly, the MPC outlines specific defenses that individuals charged with larceny can potentially use. For instance, Section 223.3 mentions a defense for someone who acted under an honest claim of right, believing that the property belonged to them or that they had a right to it. Also, if someone took property intending to return it, they might argue against the intention of permanent deprivation.

Another defense revolves around entrapment, where the defendant claims they were induced to commit the crime by law enforcement officers or agents. However, these defenses require substantial proof and are often tricky to navigate in court.

Larceny Elements

Understanding the elements of larceny is crucial:

  1. Mens Rea: The defendant must have had the intent to deprive the owner of the property.
  2. Actus Reus: The actual taking, obtaining, or withholding of the property.
  3. Concurrence: The intent and the act must occur simultaneously.
  4. Attendant Circumstances: Conditions like the property’s value or nature influence the crime’s classification.


  • Model Penal Code, Section 223.2 (American Law Institute).
  • Model Penal Code, Section 223.3 (American Law Institute).
Modification History

File Created:  07/17/2018

Last Modified:  10/30/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


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