View Full Version : Law changes what a felony is for theft

07-08-2003, 10:05 PM
Law changes what a felony is for theft

Adjustment keeping up with reality

July 8, 2003

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - New Mississippi laws will let people steal more stuff before they face felony charges - but those convicted of felonies could face stiffer penalties.

As of July 1, a person can be charged with a felony for stealing at least $500 of merchandise or personal property. The old felony level was for theft of $250 or more.

"The way it was, some fella steals a bicycle, he was looking at five years. If you steal the Mona Lisa, you were only looking at five years, too," said Claiborne 'Buddy' McDonald, past president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association.

McDonald said the new law makes clearer distinctions between small-dollar and big-dollar crimes.

Under old laws, a felony conviction for theft - grand larceny - was punishable by up to five years in prison or a $1,000 fine. New laws set grand larceny penalties at up to 10 years in prison or a $10,000 fine.

Crowell Armstrong, lobbyist for the Retail Association of Mississippi, said retailers support the stronger penalties but worry that the new $500 level for reaching the felony threshold will let thieves get away with more.

"We're for anything that gives us more protection," Armstrong said.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, chairman of the House Judiciary B Committee, said prosecutors requested the change from $250 to $500 for felonies.

Blackmon (D-Canton) said some prosecutors already were pursuing misdemeanors rather than felonies against people accused of low-dollar theft, he said.

"We had not kept track with, I hate to put it this way, inflation and what things cost these days," Blackmon said. "It didn't take long to reach $250."

Prosecutors say the new law is not meant to be soft on crime. Instead, it's meant to reflect the reality of the way many cases already were being handled.

"The $250 limit had been in effect for quite some time. As a practical matter, inflation had probably knocked it up to $500, anyway," McDonald said. "I don't know that we're going to see a tremendous reduction in the number of felony cases."