What is the optimal level of specificity for defining criminal offenses? How should we divide and classify crimes so that they accurately represent a given criminal act’s distinctive features – whether it is wrongfulness, harmfulness, deterrability, or detectability – while at the same time avoiding the kind of over-particularity that leads to needless confusion and problems in administrability? Nowhere are these issues more difficult or contested than in connection with the law of theft – owing to the extraordinary diversity in how rights in property are formulated, the peculiar twists and turns of legal history and law reform, and the sheer ingenuity that offenders use to infringe such rights.
The proper level of offense specificity in theft law is a key theme dealt with in my recent book, Thirteen Ways to Steal a Bicycle: Theft Law in the Information Age . It is also a theme that, to one degree or another, has engaged the attention of the distinguished group of commentators gathered by the New England Law Review for this symposium on the book: Susan Brenner, David Gray and Chelsea Jones, Peter Karol, Mary Sigler, and Ken Simons. This introduction sets the stage for the contributions that follow and offers an admittedly selective rebuttal to at least some of the arguments offered.