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NJ Among Nation’s Lowest Dollar Minimum for Felony Theft Threshold

Virginia Is for Felonies? Petty Theft Law From 1980s Sticks

Originally by Alanna Durkin Richer via AP

“Stealing a $230 pair of eyeglasses would land you a misdemeanor conviction in most states. Shoplifting the same item in Virginia could make you a felon for life.

To keep pace with inflation, at least 30 states have raised the dollar minimum for felony charges in the last two decades. Three dozen have a threshold of $1,000 or more, and Wisconsin and Texas won’t charge thefts of less than $2,500 as felonies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Virginia, however, has kept its felony bar at $200 since 1980, when that money had the same buying power as nearly $600 does today. Virginia is tied with New Jersey for having the nation’s lowest felony threshold.”

NJ is one of the only other states that charges a felony for thefts and shopliftings starting at $200. – Criminal Law Attorney Tim Farrow

Petty Theft Law: Felony in New Jersey

“Damien Ferebee said he was so embarrassed after he was caught stealing those eyeglasses that he paid back the store in Norfolk. Ferebee, who had a prior robbery conviction from 2004, pleaded guilty to felony larceny and was sentenced to six months in jail. He also lost his job. Now working as a cook at 31, he fears the latest felony will haunt him for years.

“You want to get back from your mistakes, but it just makes it harder,” Ferebee said.

Ken Cuccinelli, a former Republican Virginia attorney general who supports raising the threshold, says Virginians and especially Republicans in the state have a long history “of only dealing with crime by making anything and everything tougher.”

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s effort to make anything less than $500 a misdemeanor sailed through the Republican-controlled Senate this year, but was stymied in a GOP-led House committee last month after retail groups insisted the lower threshold deters shoplifting.

“The question is, why would we make it easier on people who steal?” said Republican Del. Rob Bell.

Critics say Virginia’s policy is overly harsh on minor criminals without doing anything to prevent crime.

Prosecutors often agree to knock a first-time offender’s felony larceny charge down to a misdemeanor when the stolen items are worth less than $1,000, but that depends largely on where the person is arrested, since prosecutors have wide discretion, said Michael Sprano, a northern Virginia attorney who works those cases.

Some prosecutors will only reduce a felony shoplifting charge to a misdemeanor if the accused agrees to serve jail time, Sprano said. And because judges don’t typically give jail time for first-time felony offenses, some defendants must decide whether to take a felony and go home, or get a misdemeanor and serve in jail.

“I had a client once who chose the felony instead of doing a month in jail because if he did the month in jail, he would’ve lost his job and his apartment and his family was depending on him,” Sprano said.”

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