What is larceny in Massachusetts?

Larceny is a theft crime. If you’re suspected of stealing something, you will be charged with larceny. There are many types of larceny charges depending on:

  • What was stolen;
  • How it was stolen;
  • From where was it stolen; and,
  • The value of the items.

Larceny can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on these factors.

Larceny Defined

What is the crime of larceny in Massachusetts? The definition of larceny is:

  1. The taking and carrying away;
  2. Of the personal property of another;
  3. With the intent to permanently deprive them of that item.

What is Taking and Carrying Away in Massachusetts?

Taking and carrying away is physically transferring property from another person to you. It doesn’t matter if the transfer involves only a slight movement, or if it lasts for only a short time.

There’s a case in Massachusetts where a woman had her wallet in the pocket of her dress. The defendant reached into the pocket to remove the wallet. A nearby police officer grabbed the defendant’s hand and prevented her from removing the wallet. The Court ruled that the defendant was guilty if even for an instant he had perfect control of the property.

What is Property in Massachusetts?

Under the larceny statute property comes in many forms such as:

  • Money;
  • Personal items;
  • Bank notes; and,
  • Domesticated animals.

This is just a partial list. There are, of course, many more things that can be stolen.

What is Property of Another in Massachusetts?

The Commonwealth must prove that the property involved in your larceny case belonged to someone else. They don’t have to prove who owned it. They only have to show that you didn’t own it. Such proof can come in the form of both direct and circumstantial evidence.

There’s a Massachusetts case where the defendant walked up to a parked car at 5 A.M. on a Sunday morning, reached inside and cut the wires attached to the radio speakers. At trial, the prosecution didn’t show who owned the speakers. But the Court ruled that it only had to prove that they weren’t owned by the defendant.

What Does it Mean to Intend to Permanently Deprive Someone of Their Property in Massachusetts?

In order to be found guilty of larceny, the Commonwealth has to prove that you intended to permanently deprive the owner of the item from getting it back. This can be shown through direct or circumstantial evidence. Such circumstantial evidence can be if you took something and abandoned it somewhere not caring if the owner ever recovered it.

Value of Item Exceeds $1,200

If you’re being charged with felony larceny, the Commonwealth has to prove the value of the item allegedly stolen was more than $1,200. A jury is allowed to use their common sense and experience when deciding on the value. An expert witness is not needed.

Single Scheme

You could be charged with stealing more than one item on more than one date. The question becomes, can the Commonwealth add up the values of each item to get over the $1,200 limit making it a felony. Courts have ruled that if each theft was part of a single scheme, the values can be combined allowing you to be charged with the felony. It’s generally up to the prosecutor to decide if it will be charged as several misdemeanors or one felony larceny.

Claim of Right in Massachusetts

If you took something from someone believing that you had a legal right to that item, you can use that as a defense to your larceny charge. That defense is called a “claim of right”. If you can show this claim of right, you should be found not guilty. This defense is available to you even if you were mistaken about that claim. As long as you had an honest and reasonable belief that you had a claim, you’re protected.

There’s a Massachusetts case where two women were mugged on the street. Three men saw people who they thought were the muggers. They approached them with weapons and demanded the return of the stolen property. Unfortunately, these individuals were not the people who robbed the women. The Court found the men had an honest and reasonable belief that the property they sought was the property of the women. They were ultimately found not guilty.

What is the Penalty for Larceny in Massachusetts

The maximum penalty for larceny depends on the specific larceny charge you’re facing. If you’re charged with:

  • Larceny Under $1,200, a misdemeanor – Maximum penalty is 1 year in the House of Corrections and a $1,500 fine.
  • Larceny Over $1,200, a felony – Maximum penalty is 5 years in State Prison and $25,000 fine.

Keep in mind that this is only for a Larceny by Stealing. More severe punishment is possible depending on other factors.


Larceny is a serious crime that can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The prosecution has to prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you. There are many defenses to a larceny charge, including a claim of right. There are many aggravating factors that can allow the government to charge you with a more serious crime. As always, you should understand the charge and know your rights.

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