BOSTON – Today the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation raising the thresholds defining felony larceny and other property offenses from $250 to $1,500 putting Massachusetts in line with other states. A $1,500 threshold is not a historically high level for Massachusetts. In 1906, the cutoff was set at $100, which equates to roughly $2,400 in today’s dollars. The current larceny threshold has not been updated since 1987.
Under current law, stealing more than $250 is a felony, but less is a misdemeanor. So the theft of a full cart of groceries or a smartphone can leave someone with a felony offense for larceny on their record for years. In addition to covering larceny, the bill addresses felony thresholds for malicious destruction of property, credit card fraud, receiving stolen property, and shoplifting.
“As part of the Senate’s continued focus on reforming our criminal justice system, this legislation will implement appropriate thresholds for crimes committed and allow offenders who made a mistake an easier path to get back on their feet,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “This is a perfect example of how the legislature must continue to review and revise our laws, and adopt common sense reforms, to align ourselves with current best practices.”
“In redefining the thresholds for these crimes, we still hold people accountable, but make it easier for those who have made mistakes 5 to 10 years ago, but have stayed out of trouble since, to move forward in getting jobs, housing, and going on to college,” said Senator Will Brownsberger (D-Belmont) and Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.
“As we continue to build on comprehensive criminal justice reform, this bill plays a critical role in breaking down the barriers of a ‘tough on crime’ era that’s long been shown an expensive failure,” said Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Jamaica Plain). “In raising the threshold for what’s considered a felony, we make the penalty more proportionate to the crime and do right by both Massachusetts taxpayers and ex-offenders trying to get back on track.”
“As the co-chair of the Harm Reduction and Drug Law Reform Caucus I’m proud of the Senate passing another measure that reforms our criminal justice system, and helps people get back on their feet,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).
“We attach hundreds of collateral consequences that significantly limit employment and housing opportunities to those we label convicted felons,” said Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville). “This label should be reserved for the most serious crimes. Changing the law lets us sanction those who break the law appropriately without allowing one transgression to derail a person’s entire future.”
The bill will not have a measurable impact on incarceration rates. Misdemeanor larceny currently carries a penalty of up to one year in the House of Correction. That is much more than most felony larcenies actually receive. Currently, according to the FY13 Survey of Sentencing Practices, for those who are incarcerated at all, the mean sentence for larcenies between $250 and $10,000 is 6 months. Most larceny cases are resolved without conviction (that is by dismissal or CWOF) and of those that result in conviction, only roughly half involve incarceration.
The real impact of the bill will be in the post-conviction context. People have to wait much longer for felonies to age off their visible criminal record. Felonies cannot be sealed until 10 years have passed, but misdemeanors can be sealed in five (and are not included in standard criminal record reports after five years).
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.