Property Crimes in New York – Does the Punishment Fit the Offense?

May 4, 2021

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

Property crimes are among the most common offenses in the criminal legal system. This includes theft of items and damaging another person’s belongings. Such crimes are non-violent, yet the punishment can still include jail or even state prison. New York is now considering updating its laws after decades. Here, we discuss why change is needed.


Value of the Item and the Resulting Property Crime

While there are other circumstances that change the severity of the offense, in general the value of the property at issue determines whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony. Larceny is the stealing of someone’s property without their permission.

Offense Value of Property Offense Level
Petit larceny Any value A misdemeanor
4th degree grand larceny ≥ $1,000 E felony
3rd degree grand larceny ≥ $3,000 D felony
2nd degree grand larceny ≥ $50,000 C felony
1st degree grand larceny ≥ $1,000,000 B felony


Criminal mischief is intentionally damaging someone’s property.

Offense Value of Property Offense Level
4th degree criminal mischief Any value A misdemeanor
3rd degree criminal mischief ≥ $250 E felony
2nd degree criminal mischief ≥ $1,500 D felony

Sentences for misdemeanor offenses can include up to one year in jail. More often, it results in a Conditional Discharge or up to three years’ probation. For felonies, the sentence can include incarceration in state prison or up to five years’ probation. And for most property crimes, restitution is a part of any disposition.

For certain larcenies, there may be additional civil penalties. For merchants who are the victims of shoplifting, New York law allows for not only the value of the item up to $1,500 but also a penalty of up to $500.


Proposed Amendments to Laws on Property Crimes

In New York, it costs approximately $60,000 to incarcerate a person for one year. At that expense, it seems overly costly to incarcerate someone for up to four years for swiping a new iPhone valued in excess of $1,000.

Moreover, recent research has found that the felony theft threshold has no impact on overall property crime or larceny rates. The amount of a state’s felony theft threshold is simply not correlated with its property crime and larceny rates. Indeed, research has found that states that increased their thresholds reported roughly the same average decrease in crime as the states that did not change their theft laws.

As such, a New York senator has recently proposed changing the felony theft threshold value. The proposed bill includes the following:

  • Adding a new B-misdemeanor offense of simple Larceny
  • Amends Petit Larceny to be a theft of up to $1,000
  • Changes Grand Larceny in the 4th Degree to be a theft of $5,000 or more
  • Amends Grand Larceny in the 3rd Degree to be a theft of $15,000 or more
  • Changes Grand Larceny in the 2nd Degree to be a theft of $150,000 or more

Finally, the bill also changes crime for theft of certain items, such as credit cards, motor vehicles, firearms, and religious items. There would also be a new section for the automatic indexing of dollar thresholds for larceny every five years, at fifty dollar increments.