Understanding Maryland’s Theft Crimes

A common belief is that in Maryland criminal law, all theft-type crimes are the same. Although words like burglary and larceny and embezzlement and theft are used interchangeably in our day-to-day life, in fact, they have different meanings, and apply in  different situations.


Embezzlement is perhaps the most different from the group. Most theft-type crimes require that the accused take possession of property by force, or without permission. In common terms, the items must be “stolen.” In many cases, someone can legally have possession of an item, but retain the item wrongfully, or use the item in a way that exceeds or violates the scope of why the person was entrusted with it in the first place. The person does not have to intend to steal anything at the time he or she takes possession of the item.

For example, your boss may give you $100 to go out and buy office supplies for the company. You initially plan to do just that, then you realize you could use some cash for yourself. So, you buy $90 worth of office supplies, and keep $10 for yourself. You have embezzled those funds. Surely, you did not steal that money initially; it was give to you with permission by the boss. But clearly, you embezzled some of it.

Embezzlement often is much more subtle than that, and usually involves much more significant funds and complex schemes and cover ups to conceal the misuse of the funds. This is why embezzlement is often referred to as a “white collar” crime; because it is usually committed by working professionals and often involves coverups by altering company or governmental books and records.

Larceny and Theft

Theft crimes outside of embezzlement usually require the intent to take someone’s property without permission, or without the other person giving permission to have the items taken. The terms theft and larceny are used interchangeably for these crimes and there is no substantive difference between them in Maryland. Theft can involve taking someone’s property by fraud—that is, lying or deceiving a victim to convince him or her to voluntarily give you money or property.

Burglary and Robbery 

Sometimes, theft crimes go hand in hand with burglary or robbery. Burglary requires the state to show that someone entered property without permission. Breaking into a window to steal money will result in a burglary and theft charge, while taking money off your co-worker’s desk will usually result only in a theft charge and not burglary because you presumably had permission to be in the office where you work. As you can imagine, factual questions can come up when it is unclear whether someone had permission to be somewhere or not.

Robbery also usually ends up in a theft, but a robbery must involve the use or threat of physical force or violence. If you break into a window, hold someone at gunpoint, and take his or her money, you would be charged with all three—robbery, burglary, and theft.

Make sure your attorney understands what the state has to proveif you are accused of committing a crime. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case if you are charged with a crime or arrested in Maryland.