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Is Shoplifting a Felony?

Businesses make retail store designs with you in mind. They want you to want things that you can’t afford. At a shopping mall, the marketing ploys may make you feel like you need more than you have. The latest styles and gadgets sit right under your nose, taunting you. It can feel like you are missing out on what others are enjoying. 

The temptation to steal what you can’t afford is real and can get you in legal trouble. You may wonder if shoplifting is a felony crime. Let’s look at what happens when you shoplift and what kinds of penalties North Carolina enforces for shoplifting convictions.

What is Shoplifting vs Larceny?

Shoplifting and larceny are two different things. Shoplifting is when you conceal an item(s) and get caught concealing it before you ever leave the store. The worth of the item is not relevant if you are caught before leaving the store.

Shoplifting is almost always a class 3 misdemeanor in North Carolina. It is not a felony unless you leave the store with the item. Often, a knowledgeable attorney may assist you into a first offender program as shoplifting is a minor offense.

However, if you shoplift and leave the store premises, you’ve committed larceny and can face misdemeanor, felony, or even felony habitual larceny charges. After leaving the store, your shoplifting charges turn into larceny charges. 

In North Carolina, misdemeanor larceny charges go up to a limit of $1000. That means that if the merchandise you’re accused of stealing is worth less than $1000, you may face a Class 1 misdemeanor conviction. If convicted, you could serve a jail sentence of up to 4 months (120 days), along with a fine determined by the judge. 

When is Shoplifting a Felony?

Shoplifting is not a felony. However, if you are caught with merchandise after leaving the store, you’ve committed larceny. At that point, law enforcement and prosecutors look at the circumstances of the alleged theft to determine if you face felony charges. 

The court considers the legal factors of your theft crime using NC Law. They determine felony charges based on: 

  • How much you are stealing: If the property is worth less than $1,000, the law classifies the offense as a Class 1 misdemeanor for larceny (or class 3 misdemeanor for shoplifting: if you were apprehended before you left the store premises). If the property is worth more than $1000, your larceny is a Class H felony with a prison sentence of 10-41 months. 
  • Who did you steal with?: Conspiring to commit theft of retail property worth more than $1,500 over 90 days, with the intent to sell through a retail property fence or another person is a felony.
  • How you steal it: If you break and enter, it’s felony shoplifting

For other felony theft, law enforcement looks at these factors also:

  • Who you steal from: Did you steal from your employer? If it was less than $100,000, you could face a Class H felony with a 10-41 months prison sentence. 
  • What you are stealing: Stealing gas or firearms is always a Class H felony with a prison sentence of 10-41 months.

When Simple Shoplifting Becomes a Felony

Shoplifting is often a misdemeanor-level crime, but when you go beyond the limits for misdemeanor charges, you hit felony-level larceny charges. For example, let’s say you’re at the mall and mention how much you want the latest Sony headphones, and your friend drops them in your shopping bag and smiles. You do nothing because you want to stay calm. 

At this point, while you are still in the store, you could receive a misdemeanor shoplifting charge. However, you both leave the store with the headphones in your bag. After leaving the store, if caught, you can face larceny charges.

Because you did nothing, you are just as legally responsible for the theft as your friend. You watched the theft happen and left the store with the item in your bag. The headphones in question are Sony IER-Z1R Signature Series in-Ear Headphones (IERZ1R) worth $1,698.00. 

You’ve just committed felony-level larceny by doing nothing when your friend stole merchandise and gave it to you. The law in NC states that if you know about stolen merchandise given to you (or even if you should have known), you can face the same charges as the thief. 

Because the theft is worth more than $1000, you can face Class H felony charges with a prison sentence of 10-41 months, including possible fines, probation, or community service. 

Felony vs. Misdemeanor Convictions

A felony conviction means you lose your ability to: 

  • Vote (until you’ve completed all terms)
  • Own firearms
  • Buy a home easily
  • Rent an apartment or lease a home or car easily
  • Get a job easily
  • Have your freedom (long prison sentence)
  • Keep your money (fines, court costs, attorney fees)

A misdemeanor conviction costs a bit less with possible fines, jail time, your reputation, and job prospects. However, you don’t lose your right to vote or own a firearm.

We Can Help

If you’re facing a shoplifting or larceny theft conviction, our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help you face larceny charges with optimal results. We understand that theft charges occur in many different situations and may even result from a misunderstanding. Our thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the case often gives you the defense you need to protect your rights and reputation. Whatever your case, you can rest assured knowing the theft defense attorneys at Scharff Law Firm work tirelessly to defend your rights and reputation. Contact us today for a free initial consultation and find out how we can help.