North Carolina General Statute §14-72 establishes the crimes of Larceny of property, receiving stolen goods, or possessing stolen goods. Generally speaking, Larceny is a misdemeanor if the value of the property is less than $1,000.00.
The Elements of Larceny
To convict a person of Larceny, the state must prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that they:
(2) personal property
(3) in the possession of another and
(4) carried it away
(5) without the consent of the possessor
(6) with intent to deprive the possessor of its use permanently
(7) knowing that he or she (the defendant) was not entitled to it.
Larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor under North Carolina law. The most common Larceny charges involve retail theft, or what is commonly considered "shoplifting." However, "shoplifting by concealing merchandise" is an entirely different, actually lesser, crime. A Shoplifting conviction does not require the state to prove intent to permanently deprive the lawful owner of the property. It does, however, require proof of willful concealment of the property. Typically, if a person is caught while still "on the premises" a shoplifting charge is more appropriate than a Larceny charge. If a person is caught before getting away, even if they are in the parking lot, there is an argument that they are still "on the premises" and therefore Shoplifting is the more appropriate conviction.
Issues of punishment aside, in the most common cases involving retail merchants, the state will need someone from the store to come to court to establish the elements of the offense and prove the case. Different stores vary in their ability/willingness to get the necessary and appropriate witness to court in support of a petty larceny charge. Some stores (including most of the big ones) have regular court dates for their loss prevention officers (LPO), who will arrive ready to go with incident reports and relevant video. Still, it is important to ensure that the LPO who actually witnessed the incident is the same one who is in court, and is able to properly authenticate any video evidence the state intends to proffer. Some stores and companies are better than others, but typically it is a good practice to make sure the state can prove its case prior to discussing resolutions/plea bargains/punishment.
In Wake County District Court, a person accused of Misdemeanor Larceny will often be offered the opportunity to complete the "First Offender" program. This diversion program allows someone to work to keep their record clean through a combination of community service, good behavior, and a supervision fee. Some people with certain verified mental health issues might be allowed to avoid a conviction through successful completion of a mental health deferral. Other diversion or deferral programs might be available as well, depending on the facts of an individual case and the creativity of the defendant's representation.
Punishment After Conviction
In the worst case scenarios, upon conviction of a Level 1 Misdemeanor Larceny, a person without any criminal history could be facing anywhere from 1-60 days in jail. Someone with the worst criminal history could face up to 120 days in jail. Suspension of the jail sentence on conditions of probation should be a potential option in all but the worst case. For a Shoplifting conviction, only a fine can be imposed unless the defendant has more than three prior convictions; a reduction to Shoplifting can be an attractive plea bargain. Of course, individual sentencing decisions should always reflect a combination of considerations that include the severity of the offense, the history of the defendant, and other factors that are specifically relevant to a particular case.
We Can Help You
If you or a loved one are charged with or expecting to be charged with a Larceny or related crime in Wake or one of the surrounding North Carolina counties, give us a call. We offer free consultations for criminal cases and will typically represent folks in District Court for a reasonable flat fee.