Theft is a serious crime in Canadian law, and regardless of what kind of theft a person is charged with or the amount of money involved, a conviction can haunt them for the rest of their life. For non-Canadian citizens, it can even jeopardize their ability to stay in the country.

But not all people who are charged with theft receive a conviction, and the onus is on the court system to prove that the defendant really is guilty of the charges laid on them. Even in the case of a conviction, not all theft is treated equally: sentencing depends on a range of mitigating factors.

A person who shoplifts a $10 screwdriver and a person who steals $100,000 worth of clothes from a high-end boutique are not engaged in activities that result in equivalent social damage, and this is recognized in how the different crimes are prosecuted.

One of the reasons it is so important to have a criminal lawyer on your side from the beginning is that a number of legal strategies might apply, depending on the nature of the charges. In some cases, having the right legal team behind you can mean the difference between jail time and community service.

To that end, here are some of the mitigating factors that can impact how theft charges are prosecuted, and the potential outcomes an individual might face should a conviction be handed down.

Type of Theft

Just as there are differences between the broader categories of theft and robbery, there are also distinctions within the category of theft that can have an impact on a case.

For example, when most Canadians think of theft, they imagine things like property theft, auto theft, or shoplifting, all of which are classified as acts of theft in Ontario. But identity theft is also classified as a type of theft, and one that can lead up to two years less a day in jail.

These crimes are further subdivided by amount: theft over $5,000 and theft under $5,000, and are different charges. If you’ve been charged with either of these types of theft, you should contact us today — ideally before talking to the police — so we can advise you on how to move forward.

First-Time Offenses

Everyone makes mistakes, and most courts recognize that there is a difference between a person with a long record of convictions and someone who is offending for the first time.

If you have never been convicted of a criminal offense before, your first priority should be getting in touch with a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto who can advise you on what kind of statement to make to the police, and what kind of plea to enter.

One of the most common mistakes people make when they are apprehended by the police is to attempt to explain themselves, hopeful that the police will understand their side of the story and release them. But seemingly innocuous information provided under these circumstances can be used to build a case against you in court, so it is always best to say as little as possible.

Conversely, many people feel that taking responsibility is the right thing to do, even when they aren’t personally responsible (this is especially true in the case where a group of people are apprehended). You may be thinking to yourself, why do I need a criminal defense lawyer if I’ve been caught in the act? But the truth is that you are under no obligation to admit guilt, regardless of what the evidence might suggest.

Don’t make any premature confessions until you have received legal counsel from a criminal defence lawyer who understands how the law applies to your case and can provide you with informed counsel.

With the right legal help, you may end up receiving a reduced sentence, a discharge, or even an acquittal. If you want to know more, you can review our FAQ’s to find out more about your legal rights and obligations when charged with a crime in Ontario.


In Canada, the Youth Criminal Justice Act creates special parameters around cases concerning defendants between the ages of 12 and 18. Except in the case of very serious crimes, the act gives judges greater latitude in sentencing, with the goal of enforcing consequences for illegal behaviour while also providing an avenue for rehabilitation.

Age can lead to reduced sentences, and opens up a greater range of options for restitution. A minor charged with shoplifting, for example, may not be required to pay a fine or serve in a detention facility.

How Theft Charges Affect Your Criminal Record

Given the many negative ways a criminal record can affect your life (including by making you ineligible for certain jobs), it’s no surprise that one of the most frequent questions people have when they’ve been charged with theft is whether or not it will end up on their criminal record.

Unfortunately, if you are convicted of theft, it will almost certainly end up on your permanent criminal record. But the good news is that in some cases the court may give you an absolute or conditional discharge instead of a conviction.

In essence, a discharge indicates that you are guilty of the offense, but the court believes that mitigating factors suggest a criminal sentence is not in the public interest. Discharges are often made in the case of minors or first-time offenders when a judge does not believe the offense merits giving the accused a criminal record, and may be accompanied by fines, probation, or alternative measures.

Theft covers a lot of different types of offense, and whether you’ve been charged with identity theft or stealing a car, finding a Toronto criminal lawyer who specializes in theft and other types of property crime is the best way to ensure that you fully understand the range of options available to you.

Getting the right legal counsel can sometimes mean the difference between a jail time, a fine, probation, or an acquittal, so call Jeff Reisman Law today to get the legal support you need.