A bill proposing to end Maine’s three strikes law for thefts, which allows for felony charges on a third offense, cleared the House of Representatives on Monday.

Republicans said the bill would increase retail theft and smash-and-grab crimes, while Democrats argued that felony charges for petty thefts are extreme, and that a felony conviction for such crimes would make it more difficult for someone to find housing and employment.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. David Sinclair, D-Bath, would prohibit charging a person who already has at least two prior theft convictions with a Class C felony if the third theft is of property valued at $500 or less. Current law allows a felony charge for the third conviction if all three occur within a 10-year period.

“What this legislation does is seek to make sure that we are imposing the worst outcomes on those who actually commit the worst offenses,” Sinclair said. “Someone who is labeled a felon after a felony conviction suffers lifelong outcomes. … Petty theft – even repetitive petty theft – is not one of those worst offenses.”

Republicans argued that removing the threat of a felony conviction for a third offense would only embolden thieves and encourage organized retail crime operations to target Maine stores.

Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, pointed to a rise in retail theft in cities like San Francisco, which she said has a similar law, and noted that some Family Dollar stores are closing because of rampant theft. Lawmakers have an obligation to protect their constituents, whether they are individuals struggling to get by or small businesses, she said.


“Most of the people I represent can’t afford to have $500 stolen from them – that’s a lot of money to most people,” she said. “Before you vote for this bill, please ask yourselves: Do you want to represent thieves or honest, hardworking people?”

An analysis by the Council on Criminal Justice, an independent, nonpartisan think tank, released last November found that retail crime across the country was 16% higher in the first half of 2023 than in the same period in 2019. But if New York was removed from the 24 cities that consistently publish data, retail crime was actually 7% lower. New York and Los Angeles saw increases of 64% and 61%, respectively.

CCJ Research Specialist Ernesto Lopez, co-author of the report, said in a release that smash-and-grab thefts caught on video are gaining attention on social media, contributing to a sense that such incidents are on the rise nationally. But the data are less conclusive, he said.

“Far better data from law enforcement and the retail industry is needed to help strengthen our grasp of shoplifting trends,” Lopez said. “For now, it’s unclear if the increase is a result of increased shoplifting, increased reporting from businesses to police, or a combination of both.”

Sinclair’s bill is supported by the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.

ACLU of Maine Policy Counsel Michael Kebede said in written testimony that someone who steals three loaves of bread on three separate occasions should not be subject to a felony charge and punishment of up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

And MACDL President Matthew Morgan said judges would still be able to increase punishment for repeat offenders when appropriate.

“Maine’s current theft with priors law is unnecessary and unjust,” Morgan said. “L.D. 2246 proposes setting a reasonable threshold amount to capture more serious recidivist conduct and avoid making poor people into felons.”

The House approved the bill, L.D. 2246, by a 74-61 vote along party lines. It now heads to the Senate.

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