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Looting in the wake of Hurricane Michael

The devastation of hurricane Michael has left millions without power. A lack of power can mean that those who were unable to prepare for the storm with excess resources may become desperate.

Florida’s Bay County has established a curfew to prevent looting during this time. However, in North Carolina, looting and theft could rise as a result of this catastrophic storm.

Is looting different than stealing?

Looting is often mistaken for theft because the two usually go hand in hand. Looting, according to North Carolina law, specifically refers to the act of trespassing by entering a premise without legal justification when security is not effective due to the aftermath of crisis circumstances, such as:

  • Riot
  • Insurrection
  • Invasion
  • Storm
  • Fire
  • Flood
  • Collapse

With debris scattered across the streets and home/store security measures damaged, Hurricane Michael presents criminal opportunity for looting and theft.

What are the penalties for looting and theft?

Charges for looting generally result in Class 1 misdemeanor charges, punishable by up to 120 days of jail time and/or fines issued at the discretion of the court.

However, if looting occurs during an emergency and the defendant damages, ransacks or destroys the property, he or she could face Class H felony charges, punishable by four to 25 months of jail time and two conviction points. Although, Class H felony charges do generally allow probation.

Stealing assets that are valued at more than $1,000 may also cause a defendant to face Class H felony charges. Stealing any amount less than $1000 can result in a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Added up, these charges may carry expensive fines that often end up costing more than the value of the items stolen. If you or a loved one are in need of help due to the storm, some churches are providing resources and refuge for victims. If you are already facing criminal charges, seek the help of a criminal defense attorney to settle your case while you and the state recover from the storm.

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