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When does theft become a felony in South Carolina?

Most states set a certain dollar amount to differentiate between misdemeanor theft and felony theft. South Carolina has one of the highest thresholds in the nation for grand larceny (felony) charges. This prevents filling our prisons with low-level offenders and people who steal to feed drug addictions.

However, any theft charges can lead to jail time, fines and restitution. Perhaps worse than the criminal punishment, a theft conviction can be a lifelong barrier to college and employment opportunities, housing or lending, even volunteering.

What is the threshold for felony theft?

South Carolina draws the line at $2,000. Below that amount is petit larceny, a misdemeanor. Stealing $2,000 or more worth of property is grand larceny, a felony.

In Virginia and New Jersey, the threshold for felony theft is just $200. The Massachusetts legislature is poised to raise the limit from $250 to $1,000, in line with the rest of New England.

Simply crossing the border can make a big difference. Felony charges are triggered at $300 in Florida, while next door in Georgia the threshold is $1,500. North Carolina is $1,000. South Carolina is near the top, but Texas and Wisconsin set the highest bar for felony charges: $2,500.

What counts as larceny?

Larceny is any theft of property or services. Shoplifting (retail theft) or stealing someone’s laptop. Writing bad checks. Embezzling cash from a church or charity. Stealing a car. Theft crimes can also be charged as burglary or robbery, a more serious felony, if the theft involved force or entering someone’s home or business. Or there may be related charges of possessing, receiving or attempting to sell stolen property.

What is the punishment for theft in South Carolina?

Just as the dollar threshold varies, the punishment can vary from state to state. It’s possible a person could get more jail time in some misdemeanor states than they would for stealing the same item in a felony state. Under South Carolina statute, petit larceny (“petty theft”) is punishable by no more than 30 days in jail, or a maximum fine of $1,000. 

However, above the generous threshold of $2,000, the law comes down much harder. In South Carolina, grand larceny of $2,000 to $8,000 in punishable by up to 5 years in prison, or a fine at the court’s discretion. Above $10,000 in value, the maximum prison term is 10 years.

The amount factors into the punishment. Stealing a five-dollar lipstick is different from stealing $1,800 worth of building supplies, even though both are misdemeanors. Prior convictions can also increase the punishment, or eliminate the possibility of keeping the conviction off one’s permanent record through a diversion program.

For all these reasons, it should go without saying that it’s never a good idea to talk to police or represent yourself in court. If questioned or detained by police, (a) remain silent and (b) ask for an attorney.

Source:  South Carolina Code § 16-13-30(A)

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