Defining Theft Under Mississippi Law
Theft, which is known as larceny under Mississippi law, is generally defined as the felonious taking, stealing, or carrying away of the property of another. Larceny or theft may be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony in Mississippi (more on these classifications below). Mississippi criminal statutes also identify a number of very specific larceny offenses, including:
- stealing bonds, notes, drafts, or public securities (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-45.)
- stealing crops or farm buildings, structures, or fences (§ 97-17-47.)
- stealing wool from dead sheep (§ 97-17-49.)
- stealing dogs (§ 97-17-51.)
- stealing livestock (§ 97-17-53.)
- stealing milk from cows (§ 97-17-55.)
- stealing timber (§ 97-17-59.)
- taking away certain livestock, dogs, and motor vehicles without the owner’s consent (§ 97-17-61.)
- stealing rental property (§ 97-17-62.), and
- receiving stolen property (§ 97-17-70.).
Mississippi law categorizes most of these specific theft offenses as misdemeanors or felonies, depending in part on the dollar value of the property stolen.
Classification and Punishment for Theft in Mississippi
Like most states, Mississippi categorizes theft or larceny offenses according to the dollar value of the property taken (and sometimes based on the nature of the property itself). A misdemeanor larceny theft is known as "petit larceny" under Mississippi law, and felony larceny theft is known as "grand larceny." Most theft offenses will fall into one of these two categories -- and some offenses may qualify as both, depending on the circumstances.
Petit Larceny. The lowest-level theft offense in Mississippi is called petit larceny, also known as petty theft. Petit larceny occurs when a person steals property valued at less than $500. Petit larceny is a misdemeanor under MIssissippi law, punishable by a sentence of imprisonment in the county jail for no more than six months, or by a fine of not more than $1,000.00, or both.
- If the petit larceny involves property stolen from a place of worship (such as a church, synagogue, or temple) the penalties become more severe, in that a person can face a sentence of imprisonment of no more than one year, and no more than $2,000 in fines. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-43(1), (2).)
- The theft of gasoline from a service station also constitutes petit larceny. (§ 97-17-43(3).) For a second offense of stealing gasoline from a service station, the offender may be subject to a six-month driver’s license suspension. That driver's license suspension may be bumped up to one year for any subsequent gasoline theft offense.
- Shoplifting of merchandise valued at less than $500, whether a first or second offense, also qualifies as petit larceny. (§ 97-23-93(5).)
Grand Larceny. When a person steals property valued at more than $500, the crime becomes grand larcen. Grand larceny is a felony under Mississippi law, punishable by imprisonment in the state penitentiary for a term of not more than 10 years, a fine of not more than $10,000, or both. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-17-41(1).)
If a person shoplifts merchandise valued at $500 or more, or receives a conviction for a third or subsequent shoplifting offense involving merchandise valued at less than $500, the crime is punishable as grand larceny. (§97-23-93(6), (7).) However, a third or subsequent shoplifting offense of merchandise valued at less than $500 can receive a sentence of incarceration of no more than five years, a fine of no more than $5,000, or both.
Civil Liability for Theft in Mississippi
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting can be civilly liable to the store owner for an amount three times the actual damages stemming from the offense, or $200, whichever is greater, plus reimbursement of the owner’s reasonable attorney's fees and court costs in bringing the action. (Miss. Code Ann. § 97-23-96.) The owner of the merchandise is entitled to recover these damages, regardless of whether the offender returns the merchandise to the owner, and regardless of the condition the merchandise is in when it is returned.
Before filing an action to recover civil damages from an offender who has shoplifted merchandise, the store owner first must give a written demand for damages to the offender. The written demand must allow the offender 30 days in which to pay the civil damages requested by the store owner. If the offender fails to pay the damages requested, the store owner can proceed to file suit to recover those damages. If the offender is a minor who still lives with a parent or guardian, the parent or guardian cannot be held civilly liable unless the store owner can prove that the parent or guardian knew that the minor was shoplifting merchandise, or that the parent or guardian somehow aided the minor in shoplifting the merchandise.
Effect of Prior Convictions on Theft Charge in Mississippi
With the exception of the shoplifting offenses discussed above, the theft statutes in Mississippi do not provide specific information on the effects of prior theft convictions on a subsequent theft charge. For more information on this issue, conduct your own legal research, or contact a Mississippi criminal defense attorney for assistance.