The laws in Massachusetts regarding misdemeanor vs. felony theft are quite different than in the rest of the United States. Nearly every state in the country has a dollar threshold for theft. Stealing property that is valued under the threshold is charged as a misdemeanor, while stealing property over that value is a felony. Massachusetts is the same as other states in this regard, but its threshold for felony theft is much lower than other states’. In our state, stealing property that is valued over $250 is considered a felony.

At first glance, this may sound like a high amount. Under closer scrutiny, however, it is quite low. There are only two other states in the country that have a lower felony threshold. Most states have a much higher limit—around $1,000. Some lawmakers have proposed setting a higher felony threshold for Massachusetts. Others warn against it.

The lawmakers who advocate for a higher felony limit contend that the current floor is outdated, unreasonably low and can disproportionately affect a defendant’s life. Massachusetts’s felony theft threshold was put in place in 1987. The low value means that a theft of something as inconsequential as a video game, a winter coat or an expensive pair of sneakers could make someone a convicted felon. Criminal justice advocates point out that if an impoverished teenager were to make a poor choice and steal something over $250, he could be charged with a felony that would affect his life for years.

State lawmakers who oppose the bill argue that a higher limit would only encourage more theft at the misdemeanor level. Indeed, the Retailers Association of Massachusetts says that retailers across the state lose several million dollars a year because of stolen property. Last year, the state Senate considered a bill that would have raised the threshold to $1,500. The House recommended setting it to $1,000. Still other lawmakers have proposed a compromise that would set the floor at $750. Though the felony limit is a hotly debated issue throughout Massachusetts, its future is yet to be seen.