North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

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Lots of Squeeze, Little (or No) Juice: North Carolina’s Habitual Misdemeanor Larceny Statute, a Law Where Results Do Not Justify Costs

February 5, 2019

97 N.C. L. Rev. 432 (2019)


This Comment examines North Carolina’s habitual misdemeanor larceny statute. After comparing the costs of creating more felons and giving longer prison sentences with the supposed benefits of increased punishments for those who habitually steal $1000 or less in property, it concludes that the benefits do not justify the costs. North Carolina’s habitual misdemeanor larceny statute comes with a lot of squeeze: the cost to the state of prosecuting and imprisoning more felons, the societal costs of creating more felons, and the individual costs to offenders with felon status. Punishing petty larceny recidivists as felons with slightly longer prison sentences comes with a significant cost and negligibly serves the alleged benefits of the law—deterrence and prevention. In fact, some research suggests longer prison sentences may take minor criminals and turn them into violent offenders. With the uncertain efficacy and possibly deleterious effects of longer sentences in the misdemeanor larceny context, it is important to explore other punishment options that are more cost effective and avoid the long-term consequences of felon status.


The argument proceeds in three parts. Part I examines the “squeeze” created by costs to the state, society, and the individual. Part II explores the “juice” the statute seeks to yield by examining the deterrence effect of increased punishment for misdemeanor larceny recidivists and possible criminogenic effects of longer prison sentences for minor offenders. Finally, Part III reaches the conclusion that a law with such high costs and so little yield is not worth the squeeze to get the juice, but offers possible alternative solutions to North Carolina’s habitual misdemeanor larceny statute.



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