There are a lot of different words that all mean “stealing” – theft, shoplifting, larceny, grand larceny… It really all comes down to “taking something that isn’t yours”.
What does Virginia law say about that? What can you expect if you are charged with theft? Is stealing a felony?
We have all these answers and more.
Theft, According to the Law
The Commonwealth of Virginia defines theft as the removal of an item or money that belongs to someone else, without permission or the intent of returning it. Formally, the Code calls theft “larceny”; the Code also criminalizes “shoplifting” or “concealment” which are particular forms of larceny and which we will talk about later in this post.
Grand Larceny, or Felony Theft
Larceny can be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the property taken. For many, many years in Virginia, the dividing line between a misdemeanor and a felony, when talking about theft, was the value of $200. As a result, as the value of property rose with inflation, more and more stolen items (think of a new leather jacket, for example) jumped from a misdemeanor to a felony-level crime merely with the passage of time.
Finally, in 2018, the General Assembly raised the threshold amount to $500, and in 2020 they increased the amount again, this time to $1000. So today in Virginia, theft of an item or money valued at less than $1000 is petit larceny, a misdemeanor. Stealing property valued at $1000 or more is grand larceny, a felony.
Grand larceny also includes stealing something valued at $5 or more from the person of another (think purse snatching) and also includes stealing a firearm of any value.
Penalties for Theft
If you are charged with stealing something up to $1,000 in value, you will be charged with petit larceny which is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. If convicted, you will face up to 12 months in jail and/or a $2,500 fine.
You may also be charged with petit larceny if you stole something worth less than $5 directly off of a person.
- First time misdemeanor charges for petit larceny sometimes (but don’t necessarily) result in probation or deferred disposition. Even if you serve no jail time, a conviction will remain on your record and may make it harder to get and/or keep a job because all forms of larceny are crimes of moral turpitude.
- A second charge for petit larceny is more likely to result in jail time, and conviction of a third offense petit larceny is a felony even though the value is less than $1000. If convicted of felony third offense petit larceny, you could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
- We recommend contacting your local Harrisonburg attorneys no matter how many times you’ve been charged, to help you avoid the maximum penalty.
If you are convicted of grand larceny–that is, stealing something over $1,000 in value; or stealing something valued at $5 or more from the person of another; or stealing a firearm of any value–you will face a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Felony convictions carry with them additional penalties including loss of valuable civil rights, and a felony record can make it harder to obtain employment.
- There are additional larceny statutes that criminalize specific acts related to stealing:
- If you are convicted with stealing anything worth $1000 or more with the intent to sell it to another person/buyer, you could be charged with a separate felony grand larceny offense and face an additional 20 years in prison.
- If you buy or receive stolen property knowing that it has been stolen by someone else, you face the same penalties as the thief.
- Interestingly, removing a shopping cart from the premises of a store without permission is not larceny but is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine.
- Stealing animals valued at $1000 or more can be punished by up to ten years in prison; stealing lesser animals is also a felony in Virginia, punishable by up to five years.
- Embezzlement is a form of larceny where a person steals property that was entrusted to him by the owner of the property, often his employer.
What About Shoplifting? Is Shoplifting a Felony?
Shoplifting is a form of larceny and like other larcenies in Virginia carries the same weight and penalties as we discussed above. If you are caught shoplifting something valued at $1,000 or less, you will be charged with a misdemeanor. If you are caught shoplifting something with a value over $1,000, you will be charged with a felony.
Shoplifting generally is just walking out past the store checkout with unpaid merchandise, once again taking property without authority to do so and with the intent to keep it. It can also include changing sticker prices so that you pay less than the value of the merchandise.
You can also be charged with shoplifting if you are caught concealing items while still inside the store. So if you put something in your bag or under your coat with the intent to steal it, you can be charged just as if you actually had stolen it. The legal issue though, is whether you intended to steal the item at the time you concealed it, and often a person can defend such a case on the ground that they were going to pull the item out and pay for it before leaving the store. That is why most store employees are trained to refrain from confronting a shopper with concealed merchandise until after the shopper has passed all opportunities to pay for the concealed item, rendering claims that the shopper intended to pay for the item less believable.
I’ve Been Charged with Theft – What Now?
Charges of stealing, both misdemeanors and felonies, need to be taken seriously, especially because they can result in extended jail or prison time both now and, importantly, down the road after multiple convictions. If you’ve been caught stealing something, if you are facing larceny charges, then you need a great defense lawyer who understands where you’re coming from and knows how to help.
Cook Attorneys has extensive experience defending people like you, with charges just like yours, in and outside of the courtroom. Let us help. Call today to schedule a free consultation.
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