Stealing a stop sign can seem like harmless fun, but it has potentially devastating consequences. Without a sign, drivers may not stop at a busy intersection, putting lives and vehicles at risk. In most states, sign theft is a misdemeanor theft offense punishable by fines and up to a year in jail. If someone gets hurt because of the sign theft, you could be looking at a felony offense that will land you in state prison.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
In most jurisdictions, stealing a stop sign is treated as an act of theft punishable by fines and up to a year of jail time. If someone gets hurt because of your actions, you could be sued or criminally prosecuted for the injuries sustained.
Penalties for Sign Theft
Traffic signs are government property. If you steal a sign, you are committing an act of theft. The penalty depends on the county or city that owns the sign but generally, stealing is punishable by fine and jail time up to a year. The value of the stop sign may determine what offense you're charged with and the penalty. In New Jersey, for example, if the sign is worth less than $200, you could be charged with a disorderly persons offense which carries a maximum $1,000 fine and up to six months in prison. For signs that cost more than $500, you're looking at five years jail time plus a fine of up to $15,000.
Repeatedly Stealing Signs
If you make a habit of stealing signs, you could be convicted of grand larceny. This is the crime of stealing property having a value over a specified amount, typically $1,000 or $5,000, although it could be as low as $500 in some jurisdictions. Grand larceny is a felony offense that will put you in state prison for up to 10 years. Most times, you'll also have to pay heavy fines of up to $10,000 and cover the cost of replacing the sign, known as restitution. Restitution can run anywhere from $50 to well over $500 per sign, plus labor costs.
Criminal Mischief Offenses
As well as theft, you could face additional charges for vandalism or property destruction. So-called "criminal mischief" offenses typically arise when you deliberately or recklessly break the supporting post or brackets when stealing the sign. Many states have different degrees of criminal mischief based on the amount of property damage. Damage that involves public property, such as a stop sign, could raise the crime to a higher degree. Expect additional fines, restitution and possibly incarceration if convicted of criminal mischief.
If Someone Gets Hurt
In the worst case, uprooting a stop sign could result in a vehicle collision. You may be held liable for any injuries that were sustained, right up to a felony manslaughter conviction which potentially carries a 20-year jail term. As for civil liability, the crash victims could make the argument that your stop-sign theft was a proximate cause of the accident. If a judge agrees, you could be liable for personal injury damages.