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I Didn’t Know Stealing an iPhone or Smart Phone was so Serious: Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes of Cell Phone Theft in New York

No, there is not a crime of cell phone theft, iPhone stealing or smart phone heist in the New York Penal Law. However, merely because there is no specific statute addressing cell phones, mobile phones, smart phones and other personal devices such as iPads does not mean there is no crime or crimes that occur when one is stolen. On a base level, whenever you steal anything – from a pen or shoelace to a million dollars in cash or a diamond engagement ring – a larceny has occurred. Irrespective of value, the theft is a Petit Larceny and the possession of the property is Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree as set forth in New York Penal Law 155.25 and New York Penal Law 165.40 respectively. These offenses are both class “A” misdemeanors.

Putting behind the misdemeanor crimes the NYPD will arrest you for and a District Attorney will prosecute, the following entry will briefly examine some crimes for cell phone theft routinely seen by New York criminal lawyers and defense attorneys throughout New York City District Attorney’s Offices in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx as well as other prosecutors’ offices elsewhere in suburban counties such as Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Dutchess.

Assuming you steal an iPhone, android smart phone, iPad, Kindle or any device without any physical force there are two common ways the crime can jump from a misdemeanor to a felony. The first of these means is when the value exceeds $1,000.00 in violation of Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in violation of New York Penal Law 165.45(1) and Fourth Degree Grand Larceny pursuant to New York Penal Law 155.30(1). For the most part, mobile devices and smart phones don’t reach that level of value. However, what if they do or there is something of value on the smartphone? Is there a case that holds money and credit cards in excess of $1,000.00? In fact, if there is a credit card or debit card in a pouch or case, that in and of itself is the Fourth Degree Grand Larceny of New York Penal Law 155.30(4) and Fourth Degree Criminal Possession of Stolen Property of New York Penal Law 165.45(2). Value aside, the second type of felony crime an accused can face is commonly know as Grand Larceny from the person. Although no force is required, if you pick someone’s pocket, remove the phone from their bag over their shoulder, slide a tablet from their jacket while they are wearing it even if they do not notice, then you have committed another version or variety of Fourth Degree Grand Larceny according to New York Penal Law 155.30(5).

Irrespective of the type or subsection of PL 155.30 or 165.45 you are arrested for in New York, upon conviction you will face up to one and one third to four years in prison as a first time offender with no criminal history to two to four years as a predicate felon.

Where things go from bad to worse is when a theft of an iPhone, cell phone, tablet, Kindle or any similar device is accompanied by force, physical injury, serious physical injury, a weapon or more than one thief. In these scenarios the crimes range from Third Degree Robbery to First Degree Robbery. Third Degree Robbery, New York Penal Law 160.05 is any theft that involves force. Whether by punch, shove, grab or even the threatened use of force, Third Degree Robbery is a class “D” felony with a sentence up to two and one third to seven years for the first time offender and three and one half to seven years for a predicate. Even worse, if you are accompanied by another person, cause a physical injury or display what appears to be a firearm, the crime is a class “C” violent felony of Second Degree Robbery. In these cases the mandatory minimum irrespective of criminal history is three and one half years in prison while the maximum is fifteen years incarceration. The most significant of the Robbery crimes in New York is First Degree Robbery. In these instances if you cause a serious physical injury to the victim or another person, display a firearm, threaten the use of a dangerous instrument, or are armed with a deadly weapon, you have committed a class “B” felony. Your exposure is also elevated to a minimum of five years and a maximum of twenty five years in prison. Simply, if it is not clear, any New York Robbery crime is potentially devastating.

The important take home from this blog entry by no means substitutes a consultation with your criminal lawyer, but should highlight how even sophomoric, childish stupidity can lead to a serious felony arrest. As much as we all wish and hope you are reading this in advance of any mistake or merely for educational purposes, if you are alleged to have committed a crime as set forth here, then be prepared to identify a defense that will work for you and prepare to forge ahead with that defense to limit your exposure or exonerate you in the face of significant criminal allegations.

To read more about all theft crimes regardless of the value or item in question, including Petit Larceny, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property, Grand Larceny and Robbery, the links above will provide ample materials. Additional information is available on the websites listed below.

The former Manhattan prosecutors and founding criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC represent clients accused of and arrest for all larceny related offenses and crimes in New York City and many surrounding counties.

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