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Bill could lower felony theft crimes threshold

Possible changes to Massachusetts state law could mean big changes for how larceny charges are  prosecuted. Theft crimes -- also referred to as larceny -- are classified as either a misdemeanor or felony based upon the value of the stolen property. Currently, anything worth more than $250 is considered a felony, and but a current bill could change things.

Some experts on the matter believe that the $250 felony threshold is problematic. Initially implemented in 1987, it may no longer reflect the financial value of what most people think of as a felony. An alleged theft of a video game system, winter jacket or even a single pair of sunglasses could all lead to felony charges with such a low threshold.

This is especially problematic when those convicted of felony charges seek employment. Massachusetts employers who perform background checks on potential workers may look for felonies as far back as 10 years. Since a felony theft may have only been for a single item valued at $250, a one-time mistake could derail a person's ability to find and maintain gainful employment. Employers may only look for misdemeanors as far back as five years when performing background checks.

The Massachusetts Senate passed the proposed bill in Oct. 2017. If enacted into law, the felony threshold for theft charges would increase to $1,500. Many businesses oppose the change out of fear that changes to criminal law will encourage more theft. However, a 2016 Pew Research Center of 23 states that raised felony larceny thresholds determined that theft rates did not increase.

If passed into law, this bill could improve the lives of many individuals who made mistakes but are looking to move forward with their lives. Until then, defendants facing both misdemeanor and felony theft charges should remain vigilant in their criminal defense planning. Swift action can be essential for achieving the best possible outcome.

Source: boston.com, "Felony or misdemeanor? Massachusetts may change larceny laws", Bob Salsberg, Dec. 2, 2017

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