Massachusetts Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws

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Defining Theft in Massachusetts

The crime of theft is called "larceny" in the state of Massachusetts. Massachusetts criminal statutes define larceny simply as stealing the property of another. The crime of larceny also covers the following actions:

  • fraudulently obtaining another person’s property
  • unlawfully converting another person’s property with the intent to steal or embezzle, and
  • hiding another person’s property with the intent to convert and steal it. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 30.)

Massachusetts has enacted a number of laws that identify very specific theft and larceny-related offenses. Those specific laws are too numerous to list here, but here are a few examples (with the citation to the relevant section of the Massachusetts General Laws in parentheses):

  • obtaining computer services by fraud (§ 33A.) 
  • fraudulent use of credit cards (§ 37C.) 
  • larceny of bicycles (§ 41.) 
  • fraud or embezzlement by city, town, or county officers (§ 51.), and
  • buying or receiving stolen goods. (§ 60.)

Classification of Larceny Offenses and Punishment in Massachusetts

Unlike many states, Massachusetts law does not divide theft or larceny offenses into misdemeanors (which are typically less serious crimes) and felonies, which are typically more serious offenses. Different rules apply depending on:

  • the dollar value of the property involved,
  •  the type of property stolen, and 
  • in some cases,  the characteristics of the theft victim (i.e. special rules apply if the victim is elderly).

Most Massachusetts theft convictions are punishable by imprisonment for a certain time period, either in local jail or state prison. However, Massachusetts law provides that if a theft is a simple larceny, the person has no prior theft conviction, and the person makes full restitution to the victim of the theft, then the person shall not receive a sentence of imprisonment in state prison. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266 § 61.) With all this in mind, let's look at how theft offenses are classified in Massachusetts.  

Larceny Based on Value of Property in Massachusetts. If the property stolen is valued at $250 or less, theft is punishable by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than $300. This is the lowest-level theft offense in Massachusetts, and is sometimes referred to as "petty larceny" or "petty theft." (§ 30.) If the property stolen is valued at more than $250, theft is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years, or by a fine of not more than $25,000 and imprisonment in jail for not more than two years. (§ 30.) 

Larceny Based on Type of Property in Massachusetts. If the property is a firearm, theft is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years, or by a fine of not more than $25,000 and imprisonment in jail for not more than two years. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266 § 30.) Similarly, theft of a motor vehicle or trailer will result in a sentence of imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 15 years, imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than two and one-half years, or payment of a fine of no more than $15,000, or both imprisonment and a fine. (§ 28.)

The theft of merchandise from a store constitutes shoplifting under Massachusetts law. Shoplifting of items valued at less than $100, if a first offense, is punishable by a fine of no more than $250 (and no jail time). However, if the retail value of the goods obtained is $100 or more, the shoplifter will receive a fine of not more than $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than two and one-half years, or both. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266 § 30A.) 

Larceny Based on Type of Victim in Massachusetts. If the theft involves property taken directly from the person of another, the offense carries a sentence of no more than five years in state prison, or no more than two and one-half years in jail. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266 § 25.) Furthermore, if the theft involves a victim who is 65 years of age or older, the person who committed the theft will receive a sentence of imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years, or in jail for not more than two and one-half years. (§ 25.) If the person has a previous theft conviction involving a victim who is 65 years of age or older, the person will receive a minimum sentence of imprisonment of two years.

Civil Liability for Larceny in Massachusetts

A person who commits shoplifting shall be civilly liable to the store owner for damages of not less than $50 and not more than $500, in addition to any actual damages suffered by the store owner. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231 § 85R ½.)

Effect of Prior Convictions on a Larceny Charge in Massachusetts

For a second shoplifting offense, a person will receive a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $500. For a third or subsequent shoplifting offense, a person will receive a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment for not more than two years, or both. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266 § 30A.) For the effects of previous convictions on other types of theft offenses, you should conduct your own legal research or consult a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for advice.

 

by: , J.D.

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