In New Hampshire, theft cases fall into two general categories: felony thefts, where the felony status is based on the value of the property stolen, or recidivism; and misdemeanor theft cases. And thefts can be charged in many different ways, based on the manner in which the accused allegedly took or received the property.
We encourage you to contact our New Hampshire criminal defense attorneys if you have been charged with a theft offense: we have years of experience investigating charges and defenses in theft cases and will diligently help you offer your best defense.
Types of Theft Cases in New Hampshire
Chapter 637 of New Hampshire's Criminal Code establishes a number of different theft offenses. Click on any item to see the actual text of the law.
- Theft by Unauthorized Taking or Transfer. These are the types of takings that are commonly called "larcenies" in other jurisdictions.
- Willful Concealment. This is the law most commonly used to prosecute shoplifters, who are caught before they have actually left the store. However, it also applies to people who
- leave the store with items not paid for
- try to remove or alter price labels
- move items from one container to another
- or cause the cash register to charge a lower price than the actual price (this can happen where there is collusion between the accused and the checkout clerk).
- Theft by Deception Most commonly, this section is used to prosecute fraud cases, cases in which the victim voluntarily handed over the property or thing of value, but under circumstances that were, according to the prosecution, deceitful. This section can be misapplied by police or prosecutors, to situations where, for example, a salesperson may have exaggerated a claim, but the dispute between the parties should be one filed in civil court, not blown up into a criminal prosecution.
- Theft by Extortion
- Theft of Lost or Mislaid Property. The law we all learned in childhood - "finder's keepers" - is not the law in NH. If you find something that you know to be lost or mislaid, NH law places a burden on the finder to make reasonable measures to return the property to its rightful owner.
- Receiving Stolen Property. This is probably the most common theft charge brought in NH courts. If a person is found in possession of stolen property, but the police can't prove that the person was the one who actually stole it, he will be charged with receiving stolen property.
- Possession of Property without Serial Number. This charge is brought when the police find someone in possession of an item with a defaced serial number - a pretty sure sign of theft, although not necessarily known to the person actually in current possession of the item. This is a particularly serious crime if the item is a firearm.
- Theft of Services. This statute is commonly used to prosecute people who try to rent a vehicle, piece of equipment or hotel room without paying for it.
- Unauthorized Use of Propelled Vehicle or Rental Property
- Theft by Misapplication of Property
- Use or Possession of Theft Detection Shielding Devices
- Fraudulent Retail Transactions
- Organized Retail Crime Enterprise. Rarely prosecuted in NH.
Felony Theft Cases
Most felony thefts are charged as felonies based on the value of the property involved, or other considerations set forth in the New Hampshire statute, summarized as follows:
Class A Felonies
- Value of the property is more than $1,500.00, or
- Property in question is a firearm
Class B Felonies
- Value of the property is more than $1,000.00, or
- The accused has two prior convictions for theft-type offenses, or
- The property or services stolen are from 3 separate business establishments within a 72-hour period, or
- Property is stolen with intent to resell or distribute, or
- Goods or merchandise in quantities that would not normally be purchased for personal use or consumption
Misdemeanor Theft Cases
- All other theft is a misdemeanor — often charged as a class B misdemeanor if its a first offense or the value of the property is relatively small.
NH Theft Penalties
This page on our site lists the potential penalties for class A and B felonies, and for class A and B misdemeanors. Note that in theft cases, there will usually be an order of restitution, as well as potential fines, jail, prison, probation.
NH Theft Defenses
All theft prosecutions, except for the "unauthorized use" category above, require the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had the specific mental intent to deprive the owner of the property. Thus, the most common defense in theft cases is that the defendant did not have that specific mental intent. For example, we have defended many clients, charged with receiving stolen property, based on the defense that the client did not know that the item purchased from a friend or obtained as a gift had been stolen. As another example, in a recent felony embezzlement case, we successfully argued that the defendant, a bookkeeper in the business, had actually been given permission to purchase certain items on the company account for herself (when there was a falling out among the business owners, one of them exploited the situation by going to the police).
In shoplifting cases, especially "willful concealment" cases where the detention and arrest occurs before the accused has even left the store, the accused may raise the defense that she was simply being absent-minded, distracted, preoccupied by children's antics, etc. and had no purpose to steal the item placed in a pocket, under the child seat, etc.
In many cases, there is a dispute about who really owns the property. It's the job of the police and prosecution, to not take these "civil cases" (good faith disputes between people over property ownership) and transform them into criminal prosecutions, but nevertheless, it happens.
Diversion Programs for New Hampshire First-Time Offenders
In some parts of New Hampshire, there are "diversion" programs available for first-time offenders, or even potentially for offenders that have been arrested before. For example, in Merrimack County, where the Concord office of the firm is located, the Merrimack County Diversion Program helps many people who have been charged with a theft avoid a criminal record. We strongly support the Merrimack County Diversion Program, because it is independent of the prosecution and court system, staffed by people of high integrity who we trust, cares about its participants' future. The Program also strengthens our community through, to date, 130,000 hours of community service performed, and helps victims, collecting over $280,000 in restitution to date.
Featured Victories on Theft
Merrimack County Superior Court. Client charged with two felonies: burglary of a commercial building and, while on bail for that charge, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Burglary dismissed to allow Client to enter the Merrimack County Adult Diversion Program, felony drug charge reduced to misdemeanor, Client serves 3 weekends in jail. Read More
Frequently Asked Questions
First of all, to us, all criminal prosecutions are serious — a serious threat to our client's reputation, livelihood, and even their freedom — regardless of whether charged as a felony or misdemeanor, and regardless of whether our client says she is guilty or not guilty. That being said, we have handled many significant New Hampshire felony cases involving theft and/or embezzlement from private business and nonprofit organizations, including cases in New Hampshire Superior Courts, and in the United States District Court for NH (federal court).Read More