Vt.: Stricter penalties for retail theft of merchandise—new law effective now

July 3, 2024

Vermont will enforce a new law aimed at curbing retail theft by increasing penalties for offenders, effective July 1, 2024. This new law is a response to rising concerns over retail theft and its impact on businesses and communities. Here’s what you need to know about the changes and their implications.

Key provisions of the new law

The new act modifies the law in two significant ways.

Under prior Vermont law, a person convicted of the offense of retail theft of merchandise—with a retail value not in excess of $900—could be subject to up to six months in prison. That penalty could apply whether the value of the item stolen was $100 or $900—as well as whether it was an individual’s first or fourth offense.

The new act splits the crime of retail theft of merchandise valued at $900 or less into two distinct categories. Retail theft of merchandise valued at $250 or less, and retail theft of merchandise valued at greater than $250, but not more than $900.

The new law also imposes new penalties for each offense, including a tiered system of escalating punishments for higher-level retail theft.

Under the new law, a person convicted of the offense of retail theft of merchandise valued at $250 or less, could be subject to up to 30 days in prison.

A person convicted of the offense of retail theft of merchandise between $250 and $900 can be subject to:

  • First offense: Up to six months in prison
  • Second offense: Up to two years in prison
  • Third offense: Up to three years in prison
  • Fourth or subsequent offense: Up to 10 years in prison

This tiered approach is designed to address repeat offenders more severely, reflecting the cumulative impact of their actions on retailers and the broader economy.

 The offense, and punishment, for retail theft in excess of $900 remains unchanged. Offenders may face imprisonment for up to 10 years.

Why the change?

Retail theft has become a growing issue across the United States, with significant economic implications. The surge in theft, often involving organized groups, has pressured lawmakers to act decisively. Retail theft not only leads to direct financial losses, but also drives up insurance costs and operational expenses for businesses. These increased costs often get passed on to consumers, creating a ripple effect throughout the economy. Learn more about this issue here.

Impact on businesses and communities

For retail businesses, especially small and independent stores, the heightened penalties provide a stronger deterrent against theft. The law aims to reduce the frequency of theft incidents and the associated financial burden. It also is expected to enhance the overall safety and shopping experience for customers.

Communities likely will see a positive impact as well. Reduced theft can lead to lower insurance premiums for businesses and potentially lower prices for consumers. Additionally, the law’s focus on penalizing repeat offenders more severely underscores a commitment to long-term solutions rather than temporary fixes.

What this means for agents

For insurance agents and brokers, staying informed about such legislative changes is crucial. Educating clients on how these laws can impact their coverage and claims process will be an essential part of providing comprehensive service.

Bradford J. Lachut, Esq.
PIA Northeast

Bradford J. Lachut, Esq., joined PIA as government affairs counsel for the Government & Industry Affairs Department in 2012 and then, after a four-month leave, he returned to the association in 2018 as director of government & industry affairs responsible for all legal, government relations and insurance industry liaison programs for the five state associations. Prior to PIA, Brad worked as an attorney for Steven J. Baum PC, in Amherst, and as an associate attorney for the law office of James Morris in Buffalo. He also spent time serving as senior manager of government affairs as the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, a chamber of commerce serving the Buffalo, N.Y., region, his hometown. He received his juris doctorate from Buffalo Law School and his Bachelor of Science degree in Government and Politics from Utica College, Utica, N.Y. Brad is an active Mason and Shriner.

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