It should be obvious to everyone that theft is illegal in every state, and that as the price of the stolen goods goes up, so do the criminal consequences. Each state sets its own dollar-value threshold for differentiating between misdemeanor theft (or larceny) and felony theft.
As it turns out, states vary widely in the thresholds that they set, sometimes including vast differences between neighboring states. This matters because someone might face felony charges for stealing an item in their own state but misdemeanor charges for stealing the same item in a neighboring state.
The differences between Michigan and its western neighbor are a good example. Michigan sets the felony threshold at $1,000, while Wisconsin is one of two states with the highest threshold in the U.S., at $2,500. Therefore, stealing $1,200 worth of jewelry in Wisconsin would be treated more lightly than the exact same value of jewelry here in Michigan.
Other parts of the country have not updated their felony theft thresholds for decades, which means they are not adjusted for inflation. In Virginia, for example, you can be charged with a felony for stealing just $200 worth of property. This amount of money buys a lot less than it did in 1980, the last time the state updated the threshold.
Why does this matter if all theft is illegal? It matters because there is a big difference between misdemeanors and felonies in terms of their criminal and non-criminal consequences. A felony conviction can mean several years in prison in some cases, as well as steep fines. Moreover, a felony conviction can haunt you for years after your sentence has been completed. Many states ban convicted felons from voting, either temporarily or permanently. Imagine losing your right to vote over the theft of an item worth just a few hundred dollars.
Because decisions are made by states individually, we probably cannot make theft laws uniform nationwide. However, if you’ve been charged with theft/larceny, you can make a difference in your own case by seeking help from an experienced criminal defense attorney. The right attorney could help protect both your freedom and your future opportunities.