In Massachusetts, crimes against property generally involve either the theft or the destruction of someone else’s property.
When someone takes possession of property belonging to another person without that person’s consent and with no intention of returning the property, the crime of larceny has been committed. The value of the property taken, and the circumstances under which the property was taken, determines the specific crime that is charged. Under most circumstances, stolen property that is valued at less than $250, will result in a charge of larceny under $250, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one years in the House of Correction (county jail). If the stolen property is valued at greater than $250, or if the stolen item is a firearm, the crime is a felony which is punishable by up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction or up to five years in state prison. A third form of larceny that is commonly charged is larceny from the person, which involves taking possession of property that is in the immediate control of another person. Larceny from the person is a felony that is punishable by up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction or up to 5 years in state prison. Unlike the previous two larceny charges, the value of the property taken is irrelevant; what matters is that the property was in the immediate control of its owner. Larceny from the person is different from robbery which involves the taking of property by use of force or the threat to use force. If you or a loved one has been charged with a theft or property crime, please contact me for a free consultation, I can help.
Other common theft crimes include:
The malicious or wanton destruction of property is a crime. If the destruction was done “maliciously” (intentionally doing harm), and the value of the property destroyed was over $250, the crime is a felony that is punishable by up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction or up to ten years in state prison. If the property was destroyed “wantonly” (recklessly) and was valued over $250, then the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 2.5 years in the House of Correction. If the value of the property destroyed in under $250, the crime is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 2.5 months in the House of Correction regardless of whether the crime was committed maliciously or wantonly.
Another common property crime involves the defacement of property (also called “vandalizing property”). Vandalizing property is a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison or two years in the House of Correction. A person who has done graffiti (or “tagging” as it is known by the courts) which is defined as spraying, applying paint, or applying a sticker on property would face a misdemeanor punishable by up to two years in the House of Correction. Most surprising (because it makes no sense) is that a conviction for vandalizing or tagging results in the suspension of your driver’s license for one year. If the person is under sixteen (which is often the case), then his or her eligibility to start driving would be delayed by one year.
Successful Theft and Property Crimes Trials
Many years ago when I was a new lawyer, I went to trial on an armed burglary case in which the police arrived in response to a 911 call and found my client heavily intoxicated in a home surrounded by some very angry tenants. I convinced the jury that he was not an unwanted intruder in the tenants’ home but in fact an unwanted guest who had overstayed his welcome. My client was found not guilty. In that case the tenants denied knowing my client so I focused on the deficiency of the police investigation: the responding officer was actually friends with the tenants and quickly believed their version of events and did not bother to do fingerprinting and additional investigation which could have disproved their claim that he had entered without their permission through a broken back door.
My client who had been accused of shoplifting was found not guilty by a jury after I convinced them that he did not know that his friend had stolen a pair of shoes while he stood nearby. The prosecution claimed that he was serving as a “look out” for his friend but the jury believed that he was unaware of what his friend was doing and was in no way there to help him commit the crime.
I represented a man who had been arrested on a matter and while in the holding cell at the police station destroyed a light fixture. It was all on video so there was no question that he had done it. At trial the prosecution asked the officer who had been in charge of the holding cells that night the value of the light fixture and he was allowed to answer “over $250” over my objection without any explanation as to how he knew this. The jury convicted my client of “malicious destruction of property over $250” and the judge refused to reduce the verdict to “malicious destruction of property under $250.” The Appeals Court ultimately fixed the problem and reduced the conviction to “malicious destruction of property under $250.”
If you or a loved one has been charged with a theft or property crime, please contact me for a free consultation. I practice regularly in the courts in Lowell, Woburn, Ayer, Waltham, Cambridge, Somerville, and Lawrence.