Maryland Misdemeanor and Felony Theft and Shoplifting Laws

Like many states, Maryland classifies its theft offenses based on the value of the stolen goods or services. Learn what distinguishes a misdemeanor from a felony theft.

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated 1/22/2021

Maryland's theft statute covers a broad range of prohibited conduct, including taking property of another, possessing stolen property, using deception to gain control of property, obtaining services without paying for them, and shoplifting. Like many states, the penalties will depend on the value of the stolen property or services.

Defining Theft Under Maryland Law

A person commits theft in Maryland by taking someone else's property without authorization or by deceit and:

  • intending to deprive the owner of their property, or
  • willfully or knowingly using, concealing, or abandoning the property in a way that actually deprives (or probably will deprive) the owner of their property.

So a person who steals someone's vehicle intending to keep it or strip it for parts commits theft, as does the person who steals the car and abandons it in a shed.

Other Theft-Related Crimes

In addition to the general definition of theft detailed above, Maryland's criminal statutes also identify a number of specific theft offenses, including:

  • possessing stolen personal property
  • controlling property that has been lost or delivered by mistake, and
  • obtaining services only available for compensation by deception or knowingly without consent.

(Md. Code, Crim. Law §§ 7-104 and following (2020).)

Classification of Theft Offenses and Penalties in Maryland

In Maryland, theft can constitute either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the dollar value of the property or services stolen. All theft offenses are punishable by incarceration and payment of a fine, as well as an order that the offender either return the stolen property to its owner or reimburse the owner for the value of the stolen property or services.

Let's take a more detailed look at each level of theft offense in Maryland.

Misdemeanor Theft in Maryland

A person who steals property or services worth less than $100 is guilty of a low-level misdemeanor. Punishment for such an offense includes imprisonment for up to 90 days and a fine of up to $500.

An offender is guilty of a higher-level misdemeanor if they steal property or services with a value of at least $100 but less than $1,500. The penalties for this misdemeanor theft can include imprisonment for up to six months and a fine of up to $500. For second and subsequent offenses, the jail time can increase to as much as one year.

If an offender has four or more prior theft-related convictions and is convicted of theft of property or services with a value of less than $1,500, they are still guilty of a misdemeanor but the maximum penalty increases to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Felony Theft in Maryland

A person who steals property or services with a value of $1,500 or more is guilty of a felony.

If the person steals at least $1,500 but less than $25,000 worth of property or services, the maximum punishment is five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

If the value of the stolen property or services is at least $25,000 but less than $100,000, the offer commits a mid-range felony. Punishment for this mid-level felony theft can include up to ten years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

The highest-level felony theft involves stolen property or services with a value of $100,000 or more. Penalties can include incarceration for up to 20 years and a fine of up to $25,000.

(Md. Code, Crim. Law § 7-104 (2020).)

Defenses for Theft in Maryland

Maryland statutes identify a few specific defenses to theft, including arguments that at the time of the alleged offense:

  • the defendant was acting under a good faith claim of right to the property involved
  • the defendant was acting in the honest belief of having a right to obtain or exert control over the property, or
  • the property belonged to the person's spouse, unless the spouses were not living together as husband and wife at the time of the theft, and they were living in separate residences.

(Md. Code, Crim. Law § 7-110 (2020).)

Shoplifting Remedies in Maryland

Shoplifting carries the criminal penalties detailed above. In addition, the offender may be civilly liable to the store owner.

A person shoplifts when they take merchandise without the owner's consent, depriving the merchant of the full value or use of the items. Many different types of acts constitute shoplifting, including taking items from the store without paying, charging the items to another person without permission, concealing merchandise (even if they don't make it out of the store), altering or switching the price tag or packaging, and disabling any alarm tags.

A shoplifter is required to return the merchandise to the store owner. But if the merchandise is not recoverable, has been damaged, or otherwise has lost all or part of its value, the offender must pay the store owner an amount equal to the item's stated sales price. Additionally, the offender must pay the store owner for any other actual damages in civil court.

In cases where a minor shoplifted, parents can be held civilly liable for their children's actions.

(Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. §§ 3-1301, 3-1302 (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you have been charged with a theft-related crime in Maryland, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney in your area. Future consequences of theft convictions on your record can be significant. As such, having the advice of a knowledgeable defense lawyer might substantially affect the outcome of your case.

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