Hawaiian law classifies and punishes theft offenses according to the type and value of the property or services involved.
In Hawaii, theft constitutes a broad range of conduct—from stealing jewelry to embezzling cash, splicing television cable lines, blackmailing someone for the return of their property, or defrauding someone out of money or services. This article breaks down the definition of, and penalties for, theft.
Definition of Theft in Hawaii
Hawaii, like several other states, has consolidated many of its theft-related offenses under one general theft statute. The general theft statute covers conduct such as larceny, embezzlement, cheating, extortion, blackmail, and false pretenses.
Under the law, a person commits theft by engaging in any of the following conduct intending to deprive another of their property or services temporarily or permanently:
- obtains or exerts unauthorized control over the property
- uses deception to obtain or exert control over the property
- obtains services by deception or fraud
- receives stolen property
- fails to deposit funds as required
- diverts services to an unauthorized use
- takes possession of lost, mislaid, or mistakenly delivered property without taking efforts to find the true owner, or
- shoplifts or attempts to shoplift merchandise from a retail store (more on shoplifting below).
(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 708-800, -830, -833.5 (2020).)
Other Theft-Related Offenses
Hawaii consolidated many but not all of its theft-related offenses. Here are some of the stand-alone theft statutes that remain:
- unauthorized operation of a recording device in a movie theater
- theft of livestock
- telemarketing fraud
- theft of urns, copper, or beer kegs
- motor vehicle theft or joyriding (of a car, airplane, motorcycle, motorboat)
- theft of utility services, and
- identity theft.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 708-835.4 to -839.8 (2020).)
If you have a question on a specific theft offense, be sure to consult the Hawaii Statutes or an attorney.
Classification and Punishment for Theft in Hawaii
Hawaiian law classifies and punishes theft offenses according to the type and value of the property or services involved. Penalties for theft range from a petty misdemeanor to a class B felony.
Fourth-Degree Theft (Petty Theft)
Fourth-degree (or petty) theft involves theft of property or services worth $250 or less. A person who is convicted of petty theft commits a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days' jail time and a $1,000 fine.
Third-Degree Theft (Misdemeanor Theft)
If a value of the property or services stolen is more than $250 but doesn't exceed $750, the person commits third-degree theft. It's also third-degree theft to steal up to $750 worth of gasoline, diesel fuel, or related products used to run motors.
Theft in the third degree is a misdemeanor in Hawaii, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Second-Degree Theft (Felony Theft)
A person commits second-degree theft by stealing:
- property directly from a person
- property or services valued at more than $750 but less than $20,000, or
- aquacultural products, agricultural commodities (for market), and certain amounts of agricultural equipment, supplies, or products from any area that is fenced, enclosed, or secured or that displays signs indicating "private property" or "no trespassing."
Agricultural products, commodities, equipment, and supplies refer to the production of flowers, plants, fruits, vegetables, seafood, trees, nuts, coffee, and seafood. Aquacultural products include products used to raise, maintain, or produce fish, shellfish, and other aquatic plants and species.
Second-degree theft constitutes a class C felony under Hawaii law. A person convicted of a class C felony faces up to five years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. For a first offense involving stealing aquacultural products or agricultural equipment, supplies, or products, the court can order the defendant to pay a minimum fine of $1,000 or two times the victim's damages, whichever is greater.
First-Degree Theft (Felony Theft)
First-degree theft is the highest theft offense level and applies to thefts of:
- firearms, dynamite, or explosives
- property or services valued at more than $20,000, or
- property or services worth more than $300 stolen during a declared state of emergency.
A person convicted of first-degree theft commits a class B felony. A class B felony carries up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 708-830.5 to -833 (2020).)
Hawaii's law authorizes several enhanced penalties, including minimum incarceration terms and minimum fines, for various theft offenses.
Minimum Fine for Felony Receiving Stolen Property
A person who commits first- or second-degree theft involving receiving stolen property must pay a fine that is the greater of:
- two times the value of the stolen property, or
- $10,000 for second-degree theft and $25,000 for first-degree theft.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 706-640 (2020).)
Sentencing for Habitual (Repeat) Property Offenders
Hawaii's law also provides an enhanced penalty for anyone who commits repeat property crimes. Property crimes include theft, burglary, criminal trespass, robbery, property damage, computer crimes, arson, business fraud, and credit card fraud.
A repeat property offender means anyone who, within 10 years of their current property offense, has at least two or three property crime convictions. (The number of prior convictions depends on the offense level—petty misdemeanor, misdemeanor, or felony.)
A repeat property offender faces a class C felony penalty, punishable by one to five years' imprisonment. For a first conviction under this section, the judge can place the person on probation, but the person must serve a minimum incarceration term of one year.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 708-803 (2020).)
Sentencing of Certain Repeat Offenders
Repeat felonies. A person who commits a second or subsequent felony offense for any class B felony (such as first-degree theft) and certain class C felonies (such as second-degree theft) faces a minimum prison sentence. The amount of time a person must spend in prison depends on the severity and number of prior convictions.
Repeat misdemeanors. Also, a person who commits a misdemeanor theft or shoplifting offense must spend at least nine months in jail if they have three prior misdemeanor convictions for certain assaults, threats, criminal damage to property, theft, or shoplifting.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. §§ 706-606.5 (2020).)
Defenses to Theft in Hawaii
Under Hawaii law, there are several defenses to prosecution for theft, including if it can be shown that at the time of the offense:
- the person was unaware that the property or service belonged to another, or
- the person believed that they had a claim of right or was authorized to exert control over the property.
If the owner of the property was the person's spouse, it's also a defense that the property constituted "household belongings" and that the two parties were living together at the time of the alleged offense. The term "household belongings" generally refers to items such as furniture, personal effects, vehicles, or money. (Haw. Rev. Stat. § 708-834 (2020).)
A person who shoplifts merchandise from a retail store can face criminal and civil penalties under Hawaiian law.
Criminal Penalties for Shoplifting
Hawaii includes shoplifting as one of the general theft offenses. A person commits shoplifting by doing any of the following with intent to defraud the store owner:
- takes or conceals merchandise
- alters price tags or labels on merchandise, or
- switches the content of merchandise containers.
For a shoplifting offense, the person doesn't need to complete the crime to be convicted. A person who shoves a purse in their coat but gets caught before leaving the store still commits shoplifting. It's also shoplifting to change the price tags on an item in an attempt to purchase it for a lower price.
Any person who shoplifts faces the penalties for theft (listed above) based on the value of the merchandise stolen. In addition, a shoplifter must pay a minimum fine.
- Theft of property valued at $250 or less is a petty misdemeanor, with a minimum fine of two times the value of the merchandise.
- Theft of property valued at more than $250 but less than $750 is a misdemeanor, with a minimum fine of three times the value of the merchandise.
- Theft of property valued at more than $750 is a class C felony, with a minimum fine of four times the value of the merchandise.
For repeat shoplifting offenses, the minimum fine doubles.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 708-833.5 (2020).)
Civil Liability for Shoplifting
A person who commits shoplifting is also civilly liable to the store owner for the following:
- actual damages
- a civil penalty of $75, and
- an additional civil penalty of not less than $50 and not more than $500.
(Haw. Rev. Stat. § 663A-2 (2020).)
Speak to an Attorney
If you're facing criminal charges for theft, speak with a criminal defense attorney right away. A defense attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system, protect your rights, and evaluate possible defenses. You might also want to speak to an attorney who practices in civil court if you've been sued by a store owner for shoplifting.