The police say you stole something and you’ve been charged with larceny, but you’re not sure what to do.  You’ve never been to court and don’t know what to expect.  Worse yet, having any type of a criminal record could affect your job, school or future career.  Don’t fear, at Contant Law we are here to guide you through this difficult time.

Read on to learn more about the different types of larceny, related charges and some of the peculiar requirements. If you want more information, simply call, text or email us to schedule an appointment.

What is Larceny?

Larceny is the legal term for theft or stealing. Some of the more common types include:

  • Larceny from the Person
  • Larceny by false pretenses (fraud)
  • Embezzlement
  • Larceny of a motor vehicle
  • Larceny by check
  • Shoplifting

While each of these crimes may have their own additional requirements, any larceny generally requires the taking of someone else’s property with no intention of giving it back.

Felony or Misdemeanor Larceny?

In most larceny cases, the value of the property determines whether it is a felony or misdemeanor.

  • Value Under $1,200 = Misdemeanor
  • Value Over $1,200 = Felony

It is the job of the prosecutor to prove both that you stole the property and its value.  For example, if the prosecutor cannot prove that the value of the property is over $1,200, you can’t be found guilty of felony larceny.  However, you could still be found guilty of misdemeanor larceny.

Some types of larceny are always felonies regardless of the value of the property.   Some of these include:

  • Larceny from the person / within their immediate control (one example is pickpocketing)
  • Larceny from a building
  • Larceny of a motor vehicle

Important / Interesting Facts About Larceny

  • You don’t have to take the property from its owner. Still larceny if the person you take it from has superior to rights to the property than yours, such as:
      • Someone the owner let borrow it; or
      • A thief who stole it first (weird but true)
  • You can be convicted of larceny for stealing contraband (i.e. you steal from a drug dealer, etc.)
  • It is not larceny if you steal something that you think is yours, even if you are wrong (you take $50 from Bill’s kitchen counter because you think it’s the money he owes you – not larceny)
  • You can be charged, but not convicted of both larceny and receiving stolen property (under the law you can’t both steal and receive the property).


Shoplifting is a common form of larceny, which involves the theft of store merchandise.  Shoplifting is a misdemeanor.  To be found guilty you must take or conceal merchandise with no intention of paying or giving it back.

 It can also be shoplifting when you:

  • Alter, remove or switch price tags
  • Switch packages (i.e., put the diamond ring in the Pringles can and then buy the Pringles)
  • As a store employee you intentionally charge less or fail to ring up merchandise for your buddy

Stealing from a Store Does Not Have to be Charged as Shoplifting

Shoplifting is simply larceny from a store.  The police can charge you with either shoplifting or larceny.  They usually opt for the larceny when the value of the merchandise is over $1,200, thus a felony.  We have seen this on many occasions.

You Might Also Receive a Letter from the Store Demanding Money

Massachusetts has a law that allows the store to demand money from you, even if they recover their merchandise.  Massachusetts General Laws c. 231, § 85R1/2 allows the store to make a civil demand for money from you.  The amount of the demand is directly related to the value of the merchandise you tried to steal:

  • $50 for stealing merchandise worth less than $50
  • $250 for stealing merchandise worth more than $50 but less than $250
  • $500 for stealing merchandise worth more than $250

Beware this demand is civil in nature.  Paying it does not do anything to absolve you of the criminal charges which may be sought or pending.


Receiving stolen property is closely related to larceny, but is different.  It usually applies when someone possesses property they know is stolen.  The legal elements require that the accused:

  • Buy, receive or aid in the concealment;
  • Of property that has been stolen; and
  • They have actual knowledge that it is stolen.

In many cases, a person is found in possession of recently stolen property.  The police may believe that you stole the property.  However, they can’t prove you actually took the it from the owner.  This can be a fall back charge in those cases.

You can be charged with both larceny and receiving stolen property.  However, the law does not allow you to be convicted as both the thief and the receiver of the property.

Similar to larceny, with certain exceptions, the value of the property possessed (over or under $1,200) determines whether the offense is a felony or a misdemeanor.

At Contant Law we have defended people accused with a wide variety of larceny and related charges for more than 21 years.  We have experience with both the odd and mundane situations.  Let us guide you through this trying time and get the best possible outcome.  Call, text or email to make an appointment to discuss your case.



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