Massachusetts Misdemeanor and Felony Larceny and Shoplifting Laws

Like several other states, Massachusetts classifies its larceny offenses according to the value of the stolen property or the type of property or victim involved in the crime.

By , Attorney · University of Houston Law Center
Updated April 23, 2021

Massachusetts' larceny statute covers a broad range of prohibited conduct, including theft, embezzlement, receiving stolen property, and other similar offenses.

Defining Larceny in Massachusetts

Massachusetts criminal statutes define larceny as the unlawful taking and carrying away of another's personal property, with the specific intent to permanently deprive the person of the property. Larceny includes the following:

  • stealing the property of another
  • 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.

Property includes movable items of personal property, things attached to real estate, money, land deeds, contracts, tangible or intangible data, telecommunication services, and domesticated animals.

Massachusetts has enacted a number of laws that identify specific larceny offenses, such as larceny of bicycles, embezzlement by government or banking officials, fraud in obtaining computer service, and receiving stolen property. These specific laws are too numerous to list here, so be sure to consult with an attorney or check out the Massachusetts General Laws to learn more about specific larceny crimes.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, § 30 (2020).)

Classification of Larceny Offenses and Punishment in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, different rules regarding penalties for larceny apply depending on the following:

  • the value of the property involved
  • the type of property stolen, and
  • in some cases, the characteristics of the victim (such as an elderly victim).

Most Massachusetts larceny convictions are punishable by imprisonment for a certain time period, either in a local jail or state prison.

Larceny Based on Value of Property

If the stolen property has a value of $1,200 or less, an offender faces up to one year in jail or a $1,500 fine—a misdemeanor. When the defendant unlawfully takes property worth more than $1,200, the penalties can include up to five years in prison or a $25,000 fine and two years in jail—a felony.

Larceny Based on Type of Property

If a person steals a firearm, the punishment can include up to five years in state prison or a $25,000 fine and two years in jail. Theft of a motor vehicle or trailer can result in a 15-year prison sentence, a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence, a $15,000 fine, or both a fine and imprisonment.

Larceny Based on Type of Victim

When the theft involves a victim with a disability or age 60 or older, the penalties increase. If the stolen property has a value of $250 or less, the punishment can include up to two and a half years in jail and a $1,000 fine. When the stolen items are worth more than $250, the defendant faces a $50,000 fine and up to 10 years in state prison or two and a half years in jail.

Sentencing Alternatives and Enhancements

Massachusetts law provides that if a first-time thief commits simple larceny and makes full restitution to the victim the person will receive a jail sentence, not prison.

Massachusetts law also provides for enhanced punishments for repeat larceny offenders. A person who gets convicted a second time for larceny or receives convictions for three separate larceny offenses at the same time can be labeled a common and notorious thief. Along with that title, the defendant faces up to 20 years in prison or two and a half years in jail.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 266, §§ 25, 28, 30, 40, 61 (2020).)

Shoplifting Penalties in Massachusetts

A person commits shoplifting by doing any of the following with the intent to deprive the merchant of the merchandise or its full retail value:

  • takes or conceals merchandise
  • alters, transfers, or removes merchandise price indicators
  • transfers merchandise containers, or
  • records a lower sale price.

Shoplifting in Massachusetts carries both criminal and civil penalties. Like many states, Massachusetts' law allows for a criminal prosecution (brought by a government prosecutor) and a civil lawsuit (filed by the store owner).

Criminal Penalties for Shoplifting and Related Offenses

Massachusetts penalizes shoplifting and related offenses, such as disabling theft-detection devices or falsifying receipts

Shoplifting. For a first offense, shoplifting items valued at less than $250 carries a fine of up to $250 and no jail time. A second offense results in a $100 to $500 fine. A person convicted of a third such offense (value less than $250) faces a $5,000 fine and two years in jail. If the retail value of the stolen merchandise is $250 or more, the judge can sentence the offender to a $1,000 fine and two and a half years of incarceration.

Theft detection shielding devices. It's also unlawful to possess, make, or sell theft detection devices. Such an offense carries penalties of up to two and a half years in jail, five years in prison, a $25,000 fine, or both a fine and imprisonment.

Counterfeit receipts. A person who intends to defraud a retailer by making counterfeit retail sales or return receipts faces up to two and a half years in jail, five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both a fine and imprisonment.

Civil Penalties for Shoplifting

A person who commits shoplifting can be civilly liable to the store owner for damages of $50 to $500, in addition to any actual damages the store owner suffered. The amount of damages the offender owes corresponds to the value of stolen merchandise.

(Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 85R ½; ch. 266, §§ 30A to 30C (2020).)

Talk to a Lawyer

If you've been charged with larceny or a related crime, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the criminal justice system and discuss any possible defenses for your unique set of circumstances.

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