Petty Theft and Other Theft Laws in North Carolina
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Theft Defined Under North Carolina Law
North Carolina criminal statutes refer to most theft crimes as “larceny,” and unless a specific law says otherwise, larceny is considered a felony in North Carolina. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14.72.)
There is no definition of theft or larceny in North Carolina’s criminal statutes. In general, any crime in which the offender takes property of another will be considered larceny, if the taking is done with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. And North Carolina statutes do identify a few specific larceny offenses, including:
- receiving or possessing stolen goods (§ 14-71, 14-71.1.)
- concealment of merchandise in a store (§ 14-72.1.)
- removal of a shopping cart from store premises (§ 14-72.3.)
- larceny of gasoline at a service station (§ 14-72.5.), and
- felony larceny of motor vehicle parts (§ 14-72.8.).
Classification and Penalties for Theft in North Carolina
North Carolina classifies its larceny crimes according to the value of the property or services taken. Under North Carolina law, a larceny is considered a class H felony unless a statute specifically designates the crime as a misdemeanor or another level of felony.
All larceny crimes that constitute misdemeanors in North Carolina are considered “petty misdemeanors,” making the offense equivalent to petty theft under other states’ laws.
Let’s take a closer look at how North Carolina law classifies larceny crimes, and what penalties an offender may face.
Class 3 and Class 2 Misdemeanor Larceny. In North Carolina, a shopper can commit the crime of "concealment of merchandise", or shoplifting, if store officials apprehend the shopper before leaving the store, and the shopper has taken steps to conceal goods somewhere in their clothing or on their person, such as in a jacket pocket.
A first offense of concealment of merchandise constitutes a Class 3 misdemeanor in North Carolina, and the offender may receive only a suspended sentence of imprisonment, so long as the offender performs 24 hours of community service.
A second offense of concealment committed within three years of the first offense will constitute a Class 2 misdemeanor under North Carolina law. In this case, a sentence of imprisonment will be suspended only on the condition that the offender be imprisoned for a term of at least 72 hours and/or perform 72 hours of community service. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-72.1.)
Class 1 Misdemeanor Larceny. Larceny of property or services valued at $1,000 or less is a Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina. (§ 14-72(a).)
Assuming that an offender has no prior convictions, the potential sentence for a class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina is a term ranging from one to 45 days of incarceration. (§ 15A-1340.23.)
Class H Felony Larceny. Larceny of property or services valued at over $1,000 is a class H felony in North Carolina. (§ 14-72(a).) However, larceny always constitutes a felony under North Carolina law, regardless of the value of the property or services stolen, if:
- the property is taken from the person of another
- the theft is committed via breaking and entering (burglary), or
- the property is a firearm, explosive device, or any record or paper in the custody of the North Carolina State Archives. (§ 14-72(b).)
The potential sentence for a class H felony in North Carolina is incarceration from four to eight months, depending on certain factors that can either help or hurt the offender's case. The “presumptive” sentence for a class H felony theft under North Carolina law is five to six months of incarceration. (§ 15A-1340.17.)
Civil Penalties for Theft in North Carolina
In addition to criminal penalties, a person who commits shoplifting in North Carolina can be held civilly liable to the store owner for the following damages:
- actual damages, meaning compensation for the value of the merchandise or any damage to it
- punitive damages (meant to punish the offender rather than reimburse the store), and
- reimbursement of the store owner’s reasonable attorney fees in bringing the action.
The total damages award must be at least $150, but not more than $1,000.
In some cases, the parent or legal guardian of a minor who commits shoplifting also may be civilly liable to the property owner, also for a total damages award ranging from $150 to $1,000, with the exception that a parent or legal guardian will not be liable for punitive damages. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1-538.2.)
A person who commits larceny in certain situations may be subject to civil forfeiture of any “means of conveyance” used in the commission of the crime. Specifically, if the property involved in the crime has a value of $2,000 or greater, and the offender used a vehicle (even watercraft or aircraft) in the commission of the crime, the state can seize the vehicle under North Carolina’s civil forfeiture law. (§ 14-86.1.)