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Archie Ingersoll, Forum Communications Co., Published August 06 2010

Bill would raise felony theft threshold to $1,000

For nearly 30 years, stealing anything worth more than $500 has been a felony in North Dakota, but a proposed bill would increase that threshold to $1,000 – a move that would update the law and save government resources, according to the bill’s supporters.

The impetus for the bill was a group of state’s attorneys who approached Rep. Chris Griffin, D-Larimore, at the start of the 2009 legislative session about raising the dollar amounts that determine whether theft and check-kiting cases are felonies.

“It seems kind of counterintuitive that the state’s attorneys’ association would bring a bill like this up because it appears like you’re being softer on crime,” said Griffin, who chairs the Legislature’s interim judiciary committee. “But there’s some reasons for it.”

The bill, Griffin says, would lead to a reduction in the number of people charged with felonies which, in turn, would streamline government functions in different ways.

In 2007, the Legislature passed a bill that requires anyone charged with a felony to give a DNA sample, which is processed by the state crime lab.

Eliminating the need for collecting a sample, for instance, from someone who’s written $501 in bad checks would ease the burden on a busy lab, he said.

The bill would also cut the workload for state probation officials because convicted felons have to be put on supervised probation and for court employees because felonies require more hearings than misdemeanors, Griffin said.

McLean County State’s Attorney Ladd Erickson, one of those who approached Griffin, said the bill would reduce the demands on the state’s indigent defense system since a defendant charged with a felony is more prone to request a public defender and fight the charge that could mar his record rather than plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Griffin, who’s a Grand Forks County prosecutor, said that while the bill would decrease the number of people charged with felonies, it would not have a major impact on the number of people convicted since, under the current law, defendants accused of stealing amounts between $500 and $1,000 often strike deals that allow them to plead guilty to misdemeanor offenses.

Defense attorney Bruce Quick of Fargo said the bill is one his colleagues and prosecutors can agree on. “Bottom line is there has been significant inflation,” Quick said.

The $500 threshold for felony thefts was set in 1981. When adjusted for inflation, $500 that year becomes more than $1,200 this year, according to a U.S. Department of Labor calculator.


Archie Ingersoll is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald