Petit larceny is a common crime of theft that you can face in Virginia. In most cases, this offense involves taking property valued at less than 500 dollars; but you can still face petit larceny charges if you take property valued at less than five dollars directly from another person. Virginia Criminal Attorney is available and willing to defend you from petit larceny charges. Our experienced attorneys render criminal defense services in Fairfax and the whole of Northern Virginia. We will look into your case and find a possible defense for the charges leveled against you.
What Is Petit Larceny in Virginia?
Under Virginia Code 18.2-96, petit larceny refers to the wrongful taking of goods of a value not exceeding 5 dollars directly from a person or taking of products not exceeding 500 dollars not from a person with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of the goods.
The phrase ‘from a person' means that the property is taken while an individual is in physical possession of said property, either from the hand or from the body. This includes, for instance, a wallet snatched from someone’s hand or a handbag taken from someone’s shoulder. The phrase ‘not from a person’ means the property is indirectly taken. For instance, if an individual takes someone’s handbag from a working desk, the handbag won’t be in the owner’s possession – this will be termed as petit larceny ‘not from a person’.
Virginia law considers shoplifting as a ‘not from a person' form of petit larceny. Under Virginia Code §18.2-103, you can face shoplifting charges if after concealing the items, you alter the prices of the item or decided to sell less than the correct amount of the item. If the value of the item does not exceed 500 dollars, it is considered petit larceny. Additionally, receiving stolen items of an amount not exceeding 500 dollars is considered petit larceny.
The Elements of the Crime of Petit Larceny in Virginia
The prosecution must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that, indeed, the accusations leveled against you amount to petit larceny prosecution. The prosecutor must prove these elements: you wrongfully took an item; the item must have had a maximum value of five or twenty dollars depending on whether you received it from the owner or not; the owner did not give consent, and you wanted to deprive the owner of the item permanently.
Certain Virginia Personality Identification
It is crucial to understand the personal identification technique to avoid facing accusations of stealing another person’s items.
- The owner might make some personal marks on the property or particular parts with the aim of identifying the property. The owner’s security serial numbers should be marked preceded by “VA”.
- It would be illegal for anyone to remove or alter the serial number/mark of the owner of the property, which is always preceded by “VA”, against the owner’s consent and with the aim of depriving the owner of the property.
- It would be illegal if an individual is found to be in possession of stolen property, against the owner’s consent, with the knowledge that the serial number/mark of the property owner has been removed or altered with the aim to violate the Virginia law provisions
- If someone is in possession of property that is not his/hers, he or she is required to write to the Criminal Investigation Bureau at the State Police of Virginia to get assigned the property. This provision helps him/her to attain legal ownership of the property in question. If the Bureau issues a number to the person, the dispossessed property is then lawfully given to such persons. However, this is applicable if the application was made before an arrest or a warrant was issued.
There are cases where the complaining witness puts a signal device onto their animals to monitor and trace their location and presence. If an individual removes such a device from said animal, such a person would have violated petit larceny of an animal under Virginia Code (Section 18.2-97). The defendant would be required to pay for a restitution fee for the loss or death of the animal as a result of the removal.
Offenses Related to Virginia Petit Larceny
There are crimes in Virginia in which a defendant can be charged alongside with or instead of petit larceny. These charges include:
- Virginia Code 18.2-95 – Grand Larceny. This statute applies if you take items worth more than 500 dollars, with the intention of depriving it permanently from the owner. It also applies if more than five dollars are taken directly from someone's possession. Larceny in the presence of a firearm, shoplifting, accepting custody of stolen items, and larceny with an intention to sell or distribute the stolen items are grand larcenies if their total value exceeds 500 dollars. Grand larceny is a felony, punishable by a maximum of 20 years prison term with a fine which may amount to 2500 dollars. However, the jury may decide to reduce the penalties to jail time of 12 months with a fine amounting to 2500 dollars.
- Embezzlement. Virginia Code describes embezzlement as theft committed by employees on their employers. An example of embezzlement is when a retailer scams some cash from the employer or the cash drawer and uses it or sends to a loved one. Virginia embezzlement can be classified as either a misdemeanor or felony. Misdemeanor Virginia embezzlement occurs when the total value of the stolen cash or property amounts to five hundred (500) dollars. In this case, the defendant faces a one (1) year jail term with a fine not exceeding 2,500 dollars. Felony embezzlement occurs when the value of property embezzled exceeds two hundred dollars; this offense carries a penalty of twenty (20) years in prison. Embezzlement has severe consequences because you may lose your job besides serving a sentence and incurring fines. More so, defending against the same charges in the future would be a problem in case the crime in question involved cash embezzlement. Also, there is a likelihood of undergoing a probation program in the event of embezzlement charge – regardless of whether the jail term is active or not.
- Virginia Code 18.2-58.1 – Carjacking. Carjacking is a severe auto crime in Virginia that occurs when a person intentionally seizes or assumes control of a vehicle which belongs to another person – with an intention to completely deprive the owner of it – through the use of force, threats, or intimidations. Virginia Code §18.2-58.1 classifies carjacking as a felony. A carjacking conviction carries a punishment of life imprisonment or at least 15 years imprisonment.
- Robbery (Section 18.2-58). Robbery charges apply when a person takes the complaining witness’ property through the use of threats and/or force, with the intention of depriving the owner of the property permanently. Robbery is categorized under theft-related offenses. The use of threat of harm to the owner differentiates this offense from other theft-related crimes.
Virginia law classifies robbery as first or second-degree robbery. This classification depends on factors such as the strength of the prosecutor's evidence and the specifics of the case. The use of force or threats in the presence of a deadly weapon to the victim is classified as a robbery of the first degree. Robbery of the second degree occurs when a person (without a deadly weapon) threatens the victim causing fear and emotional trauma before robbing them.
In case the robbery incident causes severe injuries on the victim's body, it will be categorized as an aggravated robbery whose penalties are harsher. The penalties for robbery convictions are imprisonment; the imprisonment term depends on the criminal history and the nature of the crime. The sentence ranges from five years to life imprisonment.
Attempt to Commit Offenses Related to Theft (Section 18.2-26)
If there is not enough evidence that you committed petit larceny (or any theft), but there is evidence that you wanted to commit the offense, you can face felony convictions for attempting to commit theft-related offenses:
- Attempt to commit robbery or carjacking crimes are 4th Class felonies, where you can face felony punishments if found guilty. The penalties are 2 to 10 years in state prison with a fine not exceeding a hundred dollars.
- If you attempt to commit a grand larceny and/or a larceny with the intention of distributing the property, the crime falls under 5th Class felonies, which carries a prison term of at least 1 year and a maximum of 10 years in state prison, or, with the jury’s discretion, the sentence drops to a maximum of 12 months in county jail with a fine not exceeding 2500 dollars.
- Attempt to commit larceny of an animal or selling the stolen property is a 6th Class felony. The offense carries a sentence of at least five years in the state prison. However, under the jury's discretion, the penalties may drop to 12 months in county jail with $2500 as fines.
Petit Larceny Penalties
The penalties for petit larceny vary depending on various factors such as the criminal history of the defendant and the circumstances surrounding the case. This offense is mostly charged as a class one (1) misdemeanor in which the defendant faces a maximum punishment of twelve months (12) in jail and a fine not exceeding 2,500 dollars. In some cases, the judge can issue a sentence of more than twelve months, although short jail terms are more common in Virginia.
Depending on the criminal history of the defendant and if he/she were convicted of larceny before, the punishments could be more stringent. For a first offense, only fines can be issued as penalties. However, for a second offense, in addition to the fines, one can be jailed for at least a week. If the defendant has been convicted for multiple larceny offenses before, grand larceny penalties will be imposed on him or her, and the jury will issue a maximum sentence of ten years. Therefore, prior convictions are essential considerations in petit larceny cases in Virginia.
If the defendant is found guilty of committing larceny of an animal or poultry, he/she will be charged with a class five felony. However, the total value of the animal or bird in question should be at least five dollars. Where the maximum value of the animal or poultry stolen is five hundred dollars, larceny will be classified as a class six felony according to Virginia law provisions.
If the defendant is charged with the removal of devices from certain animals, used for signal transmission to the owner, they face court charges for larceny. This is because removing the devices hinders the signal transmission; hence, the owner wouldn't be able to establish the location of the animal. The defendant would be required to pay for restitution of the actual worth of said animal if it got lost or killed as a result of the removal.
Besides the penalties issued on theft crimes such as petit larceny, there are separate laws that give stores the rights to acquire civil judgments against shoplifters. According to Virginia Code Ann. § 8.01-44.4, the store owner (merchant) has the right to get a civil judgment double the unpaid amount of the property stolen, with at least 50 dollars and not exceeding 350 dollars (provided that the property was recovered). This is to imply that if an individual commits petit larceny, he/she would probably receive a short notice from an attorney with a requirement to repay the amount of the value of the property stolen. Upon refusal to do so, the store attorney can level charges on the individual requesting the judge to order for payment of the civil penalties and an additional of 150 dollars for lawyers’ fees.
Petit Larceny Defenses
There are various legal defenses that a skilled attorney can use to fight petit larceny charges. Some of them include:
- Not taking the property. According to Virginia definitions of petit larceny, there must be an actual taking of property. For instance, if you are stopped at a given merchandise store with an item inside your pocket, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to take the item and keep it. But it is not always the case that having the item is because you wanted to steal it – your defense attorney may argue that you intended to pay for the item but kept the item in your pocket. This defense may be used to fight petit larceny (shoplifting) accusations.
- Lack of intent. The intent to deprive the owner of the property is a crucial element for proving petit larceny charges. A defense attorney can present evidence to show that you lacked the intent to steal the property in question. For instance, if you picked a handbag that is identical to yours, this action is considered an accidental taking of the property, and therefore, you may be free from the larceny charges.
- Consent. Petit larceny is an offense that occurs with the lack of permission from the property owner. Therefore, if you agreed with the complaining witness and reasonably believed that you had the right to take the property, you may not be guilty of larceny. For instance, you may have borrowed money from the complainant under the agreement that you would repay after a certain period. But before refunding the money, the creditor files petit larceny charges against you. Such a case may be dropped since the creditor (complaining witness) consented with you before lending you the money. Note that this strategy would only work if you did not violate the agreement; for example, you did not exceed the time you agreed to repay.
- Mistaken identity. In some cases, a perpetrator may wear a mask to hide their identity. This would make it difficult for the victim to identify the real thief, resulting in them identifying another person (you) as the perpetrator. You may face petit larceny accusations if, for example, you were at the crime scene, you had links with the real perpetrator, or you resemble the real perpetrator. In these cases, your attorney may argue that you are a victim of mistaken identity; thus, you are not liable for criminal charges.
- Good faith. If you believed in good faith that you were the owner of said property, the jury might find it possible to drop the petit larceny charges. The attorney can also argue that the complaining witness might have entrusted the property to you but, due to misunderstandings, the plaintiff decided to take advantage of the situation to press petit larceny charges.
If you are charged with petit larceny in Virginia, there is a need for you to seek qualified legal representation. Virginia Criminal Attorney is reputable in defending people against such cases and our attorneys will aggressively represent your interests in the court. We serve clients throughout Fairfax and the surrounding Northern Virginia areas. Call our Fairfax Criminal Defense Lawyer at 703-718-5533 and let us handle your case.