Larceny Defense Lawyers

Larceny is taking personal property that does not belong to you without consent from the owner, which is a crime in North Carolina. North Carolina has laws criminalizing many forms of larceny, including shoplifting, car theft, and financial transaction card theft.

If you have been arrested for larceny in North Carolina, you should get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. While these charges may not seem too serious at face value, they can, and often do, have life-changing consequences if convicted. This includes the possibility of felony conviction and large fines in civil court. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney will help you get the best possible results for you case. This can mean possibly dismissing charges, reducing sentencing, or dropping much harsher charges down to something less severe.  

person commits robbery by shacking them violently for money

What is the Difference Between Larceny and Other Theft Crimes?

Larceny often gets confused with robbery or burglary, but they are all unique terms with specific meanings in North Carolina law, as defined below:

  • Larceny: taking personal, tangible property from someone without their consent.
  • Robbery: taking or attempting to take something from a person using force or the threat of force to do so.
  • Burglary: breaking and entering a structure (e.g. a home), or intent to do so, for the purposes of committing a crime such as theft. Successfully carrying out a theft is not necessary to be convicted.

While these charges all share things in common there are elements that set them apart. For example, knowingly operating a stolen car is a larceny crime, but actively breaking into a car to steal it would be a form of breaking and entering, which is similar to burglary. Attempting to break into a car while a person is inside could constitute a robbery. The subtle difference in the facts of the case could influence the severity of charges, which is why anybody facing these charges should hire a skilled lawyer who can easily dissect elements of the prosecution’s case. Even within a single category like larceny, there are many variations of laws that can range from lighter misdemeanors to felonies upon conviction.

General Larceny Crimes

North Carolina has a set of larceny laws that cover general theft crimes that are not covered by specific statutes. These cover the crimes of taking, receiving or possessing stolen goods that are not specified under other related laws. These crimes range from misdemeanors to felonies as follows:

Misdemeanor Larceny

A person is guilty misdemeanor larceny when they commit any of the following:

  • Takes personal property from another person without their consent, with the intent to deprive the possessor of it permanently, knowing that he or she was not entitled to it.
  • Possesses stolen property, knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that it was stolen, with a dishonest purpose.
  • Receives or conceals stolen property, knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that it was stolen, with a dishonest purpose.

Essentially, misdemeanor larceny covers stealing property as well as receiving or possessing stolen property. As knowing that the property was stolen is an element of this crime, if a person honestly believed they were entitled to the property, they would not be guilty of larceny even if they were wrong.

For possessing or receiving stolen goods, the “dishonest purpose” element refers to an illegal purpose, such as possessing stolen goods to obstruct a criminal investigation. If a person, for example, is in possession of stolen goods with the intent to return it to the rightful owner, they would not be guilty of this crime.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor. This is the lowest level of larceny crimes, so additional factors could lead to a harsher charge under a form of felony larceny.

Felony Larceny

Felony larceny shares all the elements of misdemeanor larceny, with the additional requirement that the larceny involved any of the following:

  • Property was worth more than $1,000
  • Property was taken directly from the other person
  • Larceny was committed during a burglary or breaking and entering.
  • Property was a firearm
  • Property was a record or paper belonging to the North Carolina State Archives
  • Property was a horse, mule, swine, cattle, or dog.

The above possible elements that could lead to a felony conviction apply to taking, receiving, or being in possession of such property, granted that the other elements of misdemeanor larceny discussed above are met too.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony, except for larceny of a dog, which is a class I felony.

Larceny of a "Chose in Action"

A “chose in action” is a legal term for a property right or right of possession of something that can only be obtained through legal action. In essence, it is not the property itself, but an intangible property that represents the legal right to some property. This includes items such as bank notes, checks, treasury warrants, certificates of stock, bonds, and more.

A person is guilty of larceny of a chose in action when they take another person’s chose in action in a manner that would be considered a felony larceny (as described above). For example, if the property the chose in action entitles the owner to is worth more than $1,000, or the chose in action was obtained by robbery, it would constitute this crime.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony.

Larceny of Goods Represented to be Stolen

A person is guilty of this crime when they knowingly receive or possess property that was in the custody of a law enforcement agency when a law enforcement agent explicitly informed the person that the property was stolen. A person authorized to act on behalf of the law enforcement agency could also be the one explicitly informing that the property was stolen.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony.

Larceny of Vehicles and Vehicle Parts

When it comes to vehicles, whether it be cars, motorcycles, boats, aircraft, or others, North Carolina has specific laws addressing the crimes of stealing, receiving or possessing stolen vehicles.

Unauthorized Use of a Motor-Propelled Conveyance

A person is guilty of this crime when they willfully take or operate a “motor propelled conveyance”, which is any vehicle that uses a motor (e.g. motorboats, aircraft, motor vehicles), without the consent of the owner.

If the conveyance is an aircraft, this crime is punished as a class H felony. Otherwise, it is punished as a class 1 misdemeanor. It is important to note that if the car was broken into with the intent to commit a felony or larceny within, this crime would be a form of breaking-and-entering which is a felony.

Possession, Receiving, or Transferring of a Stolen Vehicle

A person is guilty of this crime if they possess, receive, or transfer a vehicle that they know or have reasonably grounds to believe it was stolen, with the intent to obtain or pass on its title (in the case of receiving or transferring).

Generally, possession is easier to prove because it does not require evidence of trying to keep or give away the vehicle’s title. In all cases, a conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony.

"Chop Shop" Activities

North Carolina has laws that specifically criminalize “chop shops”, or places where stolen vehicles are dismantled so the parts can be sold or used to repair other stolen vehicles. There are several ways to be guilty of a chop shop crime, including:

  • Knowingly altering, dismantling, destroying, reassembling, or storing any motor vehicle or motor vehicle part that is known to have been obtained by theft or other illegal means.
  • Knowingly permitting a place that the person owns or has legal possession of to be used for chop shop activity.
  • Purchasing, selling, transferring or receiving a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part knowing the identification number of the vehicle or part has been altered, defaced, removed, or otherwise falsified.
  • Purchasing, selling, transferring or receiving a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part from a person knowing that they were engaged in chop shop activity.

A conviction of any of the above is punished as a class H felony.


Larceny of a Motor Vehicle Part

A person is guilty of this crime if they commit misdemeanor larceny of a motor vehicle part and the cost of repairing the vehicle is $1,000 or more. A conviction of this crime is punished as a class I felony.


Shoplifting crimes can range in seriousness from misdemeanors to low-level felonies, depending on a variety of factors. These crimes are categorized in a variety of ways, including the value of good stolen and whether the defendant stole the items or received stolen items from somebody else. Shoplifting crimes in North Carolina fall under N.C.G.S. 14-72, and include:

Stealing from Merchants and Retail Establishments

The actual act of shoplifting, or larceny from a merchant, is classified as a misdemeanor or felony depending on a variety of circumstances. Misdemeanor acts of shoplifting including:

  • Concealing goods or merchandise from the store for the purpose of taking them without consent.
  • Willfully transferring a false price tag to merchandise for the purpose of buying it at a lower selling price.

For a first-time offense, the above is punished as a class 3 misdemeanor. Prison sentence can be suspended only if the defendant agrees to at least 24 hours of community service. If the defendant had a prior larceny conviction within three years of the current offense, they will be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. A third offense within 5 years is a class 1 misdemeanor.

There are several actions that a person can commit while shoplifting that are considered “larceny from a merchant”. If a person shoplifts and commits any of the acts below, they will be guilty of a class H felony:

  • Removing, destroying, or deactivating any anti-shoplifting control device or inventory control device, such as sensor tags.
  • Replacing a product barcode on an item for the purposes of buying it for less than its sale price.
  • Stealing infant formula worth more than $100.
  • Taking property values more than $200 and using an emergency exit to leave the store.

Organized Retail Theft

While most shoplifting is committed by individuals acting on their own, whether out of need, recklessness, or lack of impulse control, there are cases where shoplifting crimes are organized by groups. These crimes are called “organized retail theft” and are always treated as felonies.

For a person to be convicted of organized retail theft, they should at least be guilty of the following criteria:

  • Conspiring to commit theft of retail property with at least one other person.
  • The value of items stolen or intended to steal should exceed $1,500 over a 90-day period.
  • Intending to sell the stolen property or monetary or other gain, or otherwise exchanges the items with another person.

If a person is in possession or retail property they knew or had reasonable grounds to know was stolen in a organized retail theft operation, they may also be guilty of the same crime.

A conviction of organized retail theft is at least a class H felony. It will increase to a class G felony if either of the following is true:

  • The value of goods stolen or conspired to be stolen exceeded $20,000 over a 90-day period; or
  • The defendant conspired with two or more people in a leadership role to engage in a scheme to make profit.

Additionally, if convicted the defendant will be subject to forfeiting any interest they acquired or maintained due to the crime.

Receiving or Possessing Stolen Retail Property

A person is guilty of this crime if they receive or possess retail property that has been stolen in connection with conspiracy to commit retail theft, knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe the property was stolen.

A conviction of this crime is punished as a class H felony.B

Financial Transaction Card Theft

North Carolina has a statute dedicated to various forms of financial transaction card theft (e.g. a debit or credit card), criminalizing the following activities:

  • Taking, obtaining, or withholding a financial transaction card from another person without their consent and with intent to use it.
  • Receiving a financial transaction card that belongs to another person with the intent to use, sell, or transfer it to a person other than the cardholder or issuer, knowing that the card was stolen.
  • Receiving a financial transaction card and retaining it to use, sell, or transfer, knowing that the card had been lost by the cardholder or delivered to the wrong address.
  • Buying a financial transaction card that issued to someone else.
  • Receiving two cards issued in the names of two or more people within a 12-month period, knowingly or with reason to know that they were stolen or obtained fraudulently.

A conviction of any of the above is punished as a class I felony.

Defending Against Larceny Charges

There are several defenses that can be used against larceny charges, depending on the circumstances and evidence related to the case. There are general defenses that can be presented in any criminal case, such as law enforcement’s failure to recognize your right to remain silent, or if the defendant committed the act under duress. Specific to larceny crimes, the prosecution often needs to prove that the defendant had the intent to commit larceny. This means the following defense can be used:

Lack of Intent to Steal

This defense applies to cases where the defendant was found to be in possession or allegedly concealing stolen goods but argues that it was not their intention to steal anything. Depending on the evidence found in the case, the defense can argue that the larceny was done by accident or mistake. For example, the defendant may have thought they paid for the goods, unknowingly acquired stolen goods, did not realize they were carrying unpaid goods when exiting the premises, among other things.

Wrongfully Identified as Suspect

Larceny cases may rely on evidence from a video camera as well as witness testimonies. In both cases, it is possible for the observations made to be incorrect. If the prosecutor is relying on witness testimony, a skilled attorney can challenge their testimonies as unreliable or false. If they rely on video footage, an experienced defense attorney will examine if the evidence really shows that the defendant is present at all, or if it shows the defendant committing larceny of the allegedly stolen items.

Request a Consultation with Polk Law Defense Attorneys

Our lawyers at Polk Law can go through all the details with you candidly so you can understand why they recommend a certain approach over others so you could make a wise and informed decision. We have successfully represented clients in larceny cases and know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used by prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.

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