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A common crime in Massachusetts is the theft of property described as larceny from the person. Larceny from the person is classified differently from other forms of theft. When faced with a larceny from the person charge, it is important to understand the definition of this crime and its penalties. 

What is the Legal Definition of Larceny?

Larceny occurs when property is unlawfully taken from the owner. If a person’s property is removed for a lawful purpose – for example, non-payment of a loan on a car or a boat – it is not considered larceny.

Larceny is a crime based on intent. The perpetrator must intend to remove the property from its legal owner permanently, so that it can no longer be used and enjoyed. If the property is taken but the intention is to give it back, such as borrowing an item that will be returned later, also does not fit the legal definition of larceny. Neither does the removal of property by someone with a reasonable belief that the property is actually theirs.

Penalties for larceny are separated into different categories according to the value of the property stolen, based on the French words for “big” and “small.”  If the items stolen are of higher value, the term applied is “grand” larceny, and for items of lesser value,  and “petit” (or “petty”). The dollar amount that differentiates grand and petty larceny depends on the state where the crime is committed. The dollar amount will also determine if the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Larceny also does not include crimes such as embezzlement, confidence games, forgery and check fraud.

National Statistics About Larceny 

  • In the United States, larceny crimes have been decreasing. According to the FBI, there were an estimated 5,086,096 larceny-thefts in 2019. This is a 2.8% decline from 2018, an 11.1% decline from 2015, and an 18% decline from 2010. 
  • It is estimated that larceny-thefts accounted for 73.4% of property crimes in 2019. 
  • The average value of property taken during larceny-thefts was $1,162 per offense. 
  • Victims of larceny-thefts lost an estimated $5.9 billion in 2019. 
  • Cars are especially susceptible to larceny. Property taken from motor vehicles accounted for 27.1% of all larceny-thefts in 2019.
  • Businesses also suffered from larceny-thefts with 22.2% of property losses due to shoplifting. 
  • It might seem like pickpocketing is a common form of theft but it only accounted for 0.6% of larceny crimes in 2019.
  • Other categories of property taken in larceny-thefts were motor vehicles (6.5%), bicycles (3.1%) items taken through pickpocketing (0.4%) and items from coin-operated machines (0.2%).

What is the Difference Between Larceny and Robbery? 

Robbery is a much more serious crime than larceny, and occurs when the theft of property involves force, violence or the threat of violence. If a customer in a restaurant leaves their purse on the back of their chair and it is taken, the defendant would be charged with larceny. If the defendant used a weapon or threatened to hurt the customer if they did not hand over their purse, the charge would be robbery. Robbery charges carry stronger penalties than larceny. In Massachusetts, a second conviction of robbery has a mandatory minimum sentence of two years.

Larceny by Stealing in Massachusetts  

In Massachusetts, theft of property is described as Larceny by Stealing under General Law Chapter 266, section 30. In order to convict, the Commonwealth must provide beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant took and carried away property. “Taking and carrying away” occurs when control of the property is physically transferred from the owner to the defendant. The transfer of control could be a slight movement or take place over a short period of time. 
  • The property taken was owned by someone other than the defendant. “Property” includes a wide variety of items. It could be physical objects like cash, any personal items that can be moved, pets, or objects inside or attached to a home or business. Larceny by Stealing also includes digital items like stored data. 
  • The defendant had the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the stolen property. In a court case, it is up to the Commonwealth to prove that the defendant was not the owner of the property that was taken. 

What is the Difference Between Larceny by Stealing and Larceny From the Person?

There is one major point of difference between these two charges of larceny. In order to be convicted of larceny from the person, the property taken is from the physical person of the true owner, or from their immediate area of control, while in their presence. 

What are Some Examples of Larceny From the Person? 

Places like restaurants, bars, buses, retail stores are all common locations for larceny from the person crimes. Small items that can be easily concealed, like cell phones, laptops, purses, wallets and other valuables can be taken when the owner is not paying attention. The home can also be a site for larceny from the person – for example, items like jewelry taken during a party. Larger items like bicycles are also at risk. Shoplifting is also considered larceny from the person if it is done in the immediate vicinity of the staff.

As outlined in the definition of robbery, these crimes are committed without use of force, violence or threat of violence. The victim may be unaware that the theft is taking place until later when they notice that the items are missing.

Does the Penalty for Larceny From the Person Depend on the Value of the Property Taken? 

No. Under Massachusetts General Law Chapter 266, Section 30, larceny by stealing has different punishments if the property taken is worth more or less than $250. Property taken with a value of less than $250 is considered petty larceny and classed as a misdemeanor. If the value of property taken is over $250 is considered grand larceny and classed as a felony. One of the differences between the penalties for larceny from the person and other forms of theft is that the penalty is not dependent on the value of the property taken.

What is the Maximum Penalty for Larceny From the Person? 

If convicted, the defendant can be sentenced to a maximum of 5 years in a state prison, or up to 2 years in a county jail.

Is the Penalty Different Depending on the Age of the Victim? 

Older people are more susceptible to theft. As they generally are physically slower and more easily distracted, it is not difficult to imagine an older person being the victim of pickpocketing, or leaving an item unattended in public that can easily be taken. The penalties also have special consideration for older victims of larceny from the person. If the victim is 65 years or older, the penalty is stronger for a second offense. There is a mandatory minimum of 2 years in prison, and a judge cannot reduce the sentence until at least one year has been completed.

What Should I Do if I am Charged with Larceny From the Person? 

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is serious about prosecution of larceny from the person crimes. If you are charged with larceny from the person, you face a potential jail sentence, and you should consult an expert criminal defense lawyer. Charges of larceny from the person can result from misunderstandings or outright false accusations. For example, if the defendant borrowed the item in question and intended to return it, or picked up an item that looked exactly like their own (such as a phone) that they were sure belonged to them, the prosecution would have to prove otherwise. The defendant can also prove that the owner gave them consent to remove the property.

An expert criminal defense attorney will be able to navigate the legal system on your behalf. The experienced team at Riccio Law will aggressively fight for your rights. Take the first step and contact us today for a free consultation.