Larceny and theft are interchangeable in North Carolina – its criminal statutes do not define these terms. The Tar Heel State considers larceny a felony, unless a specific law states otherwise.
Misdemeanor larceny is the criminal charge for services or property valued at not more than $1,000; penalties include some time in jail, fines, probation or community service. Larceny of property with a value of over $1,000 is a felony.
In some instances, particularly with a shoplifting charge, the court can also require the offender to pay civil damages to the victim. This monetary penalty typically ranges between $150 and $1,000.
Theft and Larceny Charges in North Carolina
North Carolina criminal statutes do not have specific definitions of theft and larceny on the books. Any crime in which an individual takes property that doesn’t belong to them is larceny if the intent was to permanently deprive the owner of their property.
The state refers to most crimes of theft as larceny, which is generally considered a felony unless a specific law states otherwise. Some North Carolina statutes do specify larceny offenses. These include:
- Possession or receipt of stolen goods.
- Concealing merchandise in a store.
- Removing a shopping cart from a store’s premises.
- Stealing gas from a service station.
- Stealing motor vehicle parts.
The state considers misdemeanor larceny crimes as "petty misdemeanors," making the offenses equivalent to petty theft under the laws of other states.
Misdemeanors and Larceny in North Carolina
North Carolina classifies larceny crimes by the value of the property stolen. A Class 1 misdemeanor charge is for theft of services or property valued at not more than $1,000.
If the offender has no prior convictions, a Class 1 misdemeanor typically carries a penalty of one to 45 days in jail; fines or community service for a Class 1 misdemeanor are at the court’s discretion. If a person has more than five convictions, the sentence increases to a maximum 120 days in jail.
The concealment of merchandise occurs when a person takes merchandise from a store while still in that store’s premises. This crime has its own misdemeanor penalties under North Carolina law:
- First conviction: Offender will be charged with a Class 3 misdemeanor. Instead of jail time, they may receive 24 hours of community service.
- Second conviction: Offender will be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor, which carries penalties of probation, community service, or both.
- Third conviction: Offender will be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of 11 days in jail, or another sentence as determined by the court.
Felony Larceny in North Carolina
The theft of services or property valued at more than $1,000 is a Class H felony charge. It also a felony, no matter the value of the property, under certain circumstances, such as when the offender:
- Takes the property from another’s person.
- Takes the property by breaking and entering.
- Takes a firearm, explosive device, or any document or record in possession of the North Carolina State Archives.
A Class H felony carries a jail sentence of from four to eight months, depending on the circumstances.
Civil Penalties and Shoplifting in North Carolina
A person who shoplifts in North Carolina faces civil penalties as well as criminal punishment. The award for damages is typically between $150 and $1,000. The offender may be civilly liable to the retailer for:
- Actual damages or compensation for the value of the merchandise or any damage to it.
- Punitive damages.
- Reimbursement of the retailer’s attorney fees.
- Minor’s parent or legal guardian may be civilly liable to the business owner, except for punitive damages.
A person who commits larceny may also be subject to the civil forfeiture of the "means of conveyance" they used when committing the crime, such as a motor vehicle, bike or other means. If the stolen property has a value of $2,000 or more, the state can seize whatever the offender used under its civil forfeiture law.
Organized Retail Theft and Penalties
Organized retail theft is also felony larceny. The felony class depends on the value of the stolen property. Organized retail theft is a Class H felony if the offender:
- Conspired with another to steal a retailer’s property with a value over $1,500 over a 90-day period.
- Intended to sell stolen property for a profit.
- Takes or causes the retail property to be placed in the control of a property fence in exchange for consideration.
- Possesses or receives property that has been stolen or that they have reasonable grounds to believe was stolen.
Conspiring With Others To Steal
In 2021, North Carolina legislators voted to increase charges and penalties for organized retail theft.
An offender commits a Class G felony if they conspire with another to steal a retailer’s property with a value over $20,000 over a 90-day period, intend to sell that property for profit, and take or cause the retail property to be placed in the control of a property fence of another in exchange for consideration.
The offender must conspire with at least two others as a financier, manager, leader, organizer or supervisor to engage in a course of conduct or scheme to bring about the sale or transfer of stolen property from a retailer. The average penalty for this crime is 14 months incarceration.
- Carolina Journal: Senate Passes Bill Targeting Organized Retail Crime
- NC Legislature: Legislative Incarceration Fiscal Note
- NC Legislature: Section 14-86.1. Seizure and Forfeiture of Conveyances Used in Committing Larceny and Similar Crimes.
- Find Law: North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 14. Criminal Law Section 14-72 Larceny of Property; Receiving Stolen Goods or Possessing Stolen Goods
- Find Law: North Carolina Shoplifting Laws
- NC Legislature: Section 15A-1340.23 Punishment Limits for Each Class of Offense and Prior Conviction Level
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.