Definition of Larceny
Larceny (stealing) is one of the most common crimes charged in the Commonwealth. To prove a larceny, the Commonwealth can choose from an array of different theories, but in most cases the Commonwealth will attempt to show that the defendant carried away the property of another without planning to return it.
Proving a Value Over $250
Where the value of the property is over $250 the larceny is charged as a felony. Where the value of the property is under $250 it is charged as a misdemeanor.
When police decide whether to charge a larceny as a felony or misdemeanor they base their decision on an estimate of the value of the property. When it comes to trial, however, the Commonwealth has to prove that value beyond a reasonable doubt. Many times it cannot do so because estimates and approximations are not enough, and the charge has to be reduced. in any case, felony charges should almost always be fought vigorously, and if you are charged with a felony, you should contact an attorney immediately.
One specific form of larceny is shoplifting. A shoplifting under $100 must be charged as shoplifting, but a shoplifting in value over $100 can be charged as either shoplifting or larceny. In shoplifting cases, the loss prevention team will generate reports and save any surveillance videos that support their theory, but there is often other evidence that they will not save that can create reasonable doubt about whether loss prevention really saw what happened.
Although shoplifting may not seem like a serious charge, at least compared to many of the other charges described on this site, the penalties for subsequent offenses increase very quickly. Moreover, it has become the practice of many district attorneys' offices to offer unrepresented defendants a penalty of a small fine in exchange for a guilty plea on the first and second offenses. This is an attractive offer -- sometimes it is so attractive that a defendant will admit guilt even when the case can be defended. The result is that a third offense carries the possibility of jail time, at which point it no longer matters how defensible the first or second offenses were.
Finding the Evidence
Because larceny charges are so common, the facts and defenses of those cases are also very diverse. In many cases there is documentary evidence in the form of surveillance videos, receipts, or business records that must be collected as soon as possible. In other cases the evidence available to the Commonwealth is made up of statements or confessions of people involved in the theft. If you are charged with larceny, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible in order to create a plan to preserve any evidence that might be in your favor, and present a solid defense.
If you or someone you know has been charged with larceny or shoplifting, contact me today to set up a free and confidential consultation.
See: G.L. c. 266 s. 30; G.L. c. 266 s. 30A; Reasonable Doubt