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Property Crimes in the United States

Although many property offenses are classified as serious felonies and carry significant possible prison sentences, approximately one third of all defendants convicted in state courts are sentenced to probation.

That doesn’t include those cases where charges were reduced by agreement to a misdemeanor or the defendant was acquitted or convicted of a lesser offense at trial. The average prison sentence for felony property crime is approximately three and a half years.

But each case is different. Ask a defense attorney if you can fight your property case. If you’re facing burglary charges or any other charges, you can get a case free evaluation by a local defense attorney. Just fill out the quick form below to get help now.

Burglary Crimes

Although the precise definition of a crime and the required elements vary from state to state, burglary is generally defined as breaking and entering into a building with the intent to commit a crime therein.

Whether the burglary is a felony or a misdemeanor depends on a variety of factors. Generally speaking, residential burglaries are more likely to be charged as felonies, and may be classified as more serious felonies if there are people in the dwelling at the time of the burglary.

Burglary of commercial buildings is generally considered less serious, and often results in misdemeanor charges, unless the building in question falls into one of a specific list of businesses afforded greater protection under the law. For instance, it may be a felony to break into a bank or a pharmacy.

According to data from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the average sentence for burglary in the federal criminal system is just under 2.5 years in prison. The average sentence in state courts is longer, with variation from state to state.


Robbery typically refers to the act of taking property away from another person (or from his presence) by the use of force or the threat of force. The average prison sentence for robbery is significantly longer than that for burglary, because of the comparative risk and trauma to the victims.

Many robberies involve the use of weapons, which makes the robbery a more serious crime in some states and is considered an aggravating factor for sentencing in others.

In the state courts, the average sentence for robbery is about six and a half years, while in the federal system it is nearly nine years. Sentences can be greater if you were arrested in a state with a three-strikes law and you’ve had multiple convictions.

Theft and Larceny

The crimes described as theft and larceny can encompass a wide range of criminal activity. These terms may refer to shoplifting, stealing that takes place during a burglary or robbery, virtually any taking of property from another person or business.

In some states writing bad checks and certain types of fraud also fall under the classification of theft.

Because the crimes in question are so varied, the classification of the crimes – and thus the possible sentences – vary widely as well. The average sentence for larceny and theft in the criminal system is just over two and a half years – almost exactly the same as the average sentence for burglary. The average sentences in state courts are somewhat lower.

The largest disparity occurs in the area of motor vehicle theft, where state court sentences average 18 months and federal court sentences nearly 11 years.


There are many property crimes that involve the destruction of property rather than theft or intrusion, and arson is considered the most serious of them in most jurisdictions.

It is estimated that property losses due to arson exceed $2 billion each year. In the federal criminal system, the average sentence for arson is just over 7 years.

Arson is often charged in conjunction with other crimes. For instance, arson is often committed in furtherance of an insurance fraud scheme, or to destroy evidence, or in an attempt to kill or intimidate another person. Arson is also sometimes classified as a hate crime, depending upon the nature and motivation of the crime.

In many jurisdictions, some types of arson ‒ especially involving occupied residential property ‒ are classified among the most serious of crimes, carrying sentences of 20 years or more.

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The Bottom Line

Property crimes carry a wide variety of sentences, and have numerous mitigating and aggravating circumstances that can impact sentencing as well. Many property crimes may, under different circumstances, be charged as either felonies or misdemeanors, significantly impacting both the possible sentence and the impact on future opportunities like handgun ownership and employment prospects.

If you have been charged with a property crime, speak with a criminal defense attorney in your area right away. Certain defenses must be filed within a very short period of time or are forever barred, so you can’t afford to wait until you appear in court to learn about your rights and options.

Take control of your case now! Just fill out the form on this page and we’ll arrange a free consultation with a criminal defense attorney in your area who can. There’s no obligation-just an opportunity to get your questions answered (for example, can you get charges dropped because they didn’t read your your rights?) and make more informed decisions about what to do next.

The above summaries are by no means all-inclusive and are not legal advice. Laws may have changed since our last update. For the latest information about property crimes, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.

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