Massachusetts Theft and Property Damage Crimes Lawyer


In Massachusetts, property crimes generally involve either the theft or the destruction of someone else’s property.

THEFT CRIMES

Larceny

Larceny is committed when someone takes possession of property belonging to another person without that person’s consent and with no intention of returning the property. Larceny is criminalized  by Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 30. 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 criminalized in Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 25 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 from thee person 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.

Shoplifting

Shoplifting refers to any person who intentionally takes possession of, carries away, conceals, alters or removes a label or price tag, transfers, or records the value as less than the actual value of any merchandise offered for sale by any store or retail establishment. Shoplifting also includes intentionally removing a shopping cart from the premises of a store or retail establishment. The statute that criminalizes shoplifting is Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 30A.

Penalties for shoplifting are differentiated by the value of the merchandise taken. The penalties for shoplifting merchandise valued at less than $100 includes the following:

  • First offense: fine up to $250
  • Second offense: fine between $100 and $500
  • Third or subsequent offense: fine up to $500 and/or imprisonment for up to two years

The penalties for shoplifting merchandise with a value equal to or more than $100 include a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to two and a half years in the house of correction.

A young client of mine 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.

Breaking and Entering

Breaking and Entering under Massachusetts law is broken down into multiple crimes, depending on the type of day, the intent of the person accused, and several other factors.

Breaking and Entering at Nighttime with the Intent to Commit a Felony, which involves breaking into and entering a building, ship, or vessel with the intent to commit a felony at night, and it comes with a penalty of up to two and a half years in a house of correction or up to twenty years in state prison. A person accused of committing this offense is charged for violating Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 16.

Breaking and Entering During the Daytime with the Intent to Commit a Felony is punishable by a sentence of up to two and a half years in a house of correction or up to ten years in state prison.  This crime is codified in Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 18. If a person is armed with a weapon during this offense there is a mandatory penalty of imprisonment for not less than seven years.

Breaking and Entering with the Intent to Commit a Misdemeanor, regardless of whether it was committed during the day or night, is punishable with a fine up to $200 and/or imprisonment up to six months. Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 16A.

Entering a Dwelling without Breaking at Nighttime, in violation of Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 18, with the Intent to Commit a Felony providing that no one inside is put in fear is punishable by up to two and a half years in a house of correction of ten years in state prison. If a person is armed with a weapon during this offense there is a mandatory penalty of imprisonment for not less than seven years.

Entering a Dwelling by False Pretenses (without breaking in) with the intent to commit a felony and committing a theft once inside is punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and/or a house of correction sentence up to two and a half years or a state prison sentence up to ten years. This statute only applies if no one inside the dwelling was placed in fear. Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 18A.

Burglary

Burglary refers to the act of breaking and entering into a person’s dwelling at nighttime when someone is in the home with the intent to commit a felony. Penalties for burglary depend on whether a weapon was used during the offense. For unarmed burglary, in violation of Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 15 the punishment is a state prison sentence of up to twenty years; however, if it is a second or subsequent offense there is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years. If an unarmed person commits a burglary and assaults a person inside the dwelling, he is in violation of Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 14 (discussed below) and faces the same penalties as an armed burglary.

For armed burglary, in violation of Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 14, where a person is armed with a dangerous weapon upon entering or arms himself while in the dwelling, the penalty is a state prison sentence between ten years to life. If the dangerous weapon is a firearm, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, or assault rifle, the mandatory minimum punishment is fifteen years. For a second or subsequent offense, the mandatory minimum is twenty years.

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.

Larceny of a Motor Vehicle

Larceny of a Motor Vehicle refers to stealing a motor vehicle or trailer in addition to buying, receiving, possessing, concealing, or obtaining control of a motor vehicle with the knowledge that it has been stolen. This also applies to the theft of motor vehicle parts or accessories. These activities are criminalized in Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 28.

Penalties for larceny of a stolen vehicle include a fine up to $15,000 and/or imprisonment up to two and a half years in the house of correction or fifteen years in state prison. For a second or subsequent offense, the penalties for larceny of a motor vehicle include a mandatory minimum of one year in prison. The law also applies to a person who knowingly conceals a person accused of larceny of a motor vehicle, which includes penalties of a fine up to $5,000 and/or a prison sentence of up to ten years.

Receiving Stolen Property

Receiving Stolen Property refers to a person who buys, receives, or aids in the concealment of stolen property, knowing that the property is stolen. This also applies to a person who buys, receives, or aids in the concealment of property obtained by false pretenses or that was under the control of law enforcement. This conduct is criminalized in Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 60.

Penalties for receiving stolen property differ depending on the value of the property received. For property valued at less than $250, the penalties are as follows:

  • First offense: fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment up to two and a half years in a house of correction
  • Second or subsequent offense: fine up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment up to two and a half years in a house of correction or five years in state prison


For property received that is valued at more than $250, the penalties for the first offense and subsequent offenses include a fine up to $5,000 and a term of incarceration of up to two and a half years in the house of correction or five years in state prison.

PROPERTY DAMAGE CRIMES

Malicious or wanton destruction of property

Malicious or wanton destruction of property is criminalized in Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 127. 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.

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.”

Defacement of property

Defacement of property (also called “vandalizing property”) in violation of Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 126A is a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison or two years in the House of Correction. Defacement of property describes the intentional, willful, malicious, or wanton painting, marking, scratching, etching, injuring, defacing, or destroying real or personal property. This includes, but is not limited to, a building, wall, fence, sign, tablet, gravestone, or monument. The penalties for the defacement of property includes a fine up to $1,500 or three times the value of the property defaced and a prison sentence of up to three years. The person accused must also pay for the repair of the defaced property.

In addition, if the property defaced is a war or veteran’s memorial, the fine is automatically doubled, and the person accused must perform at least 500 hours of community service in addition to the other penalties.

Tagging

Tagging is the legal term for graffiti which is defined as spraying, applying paint, or applying a sticker on property. A person convicted of violating Massachusetts General Law chapter 266, section 126B could be punished 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.

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, Concord, Cambridge, Somerville, and Lawrence and will go to other courts where I’m needed.