Walking into a store to shop for an item and obtaining the item without paying could amount to a shoplifting charge in Virginia. Even though the crime appears petty, it requires criminal defense expertise to defend you in the case. Virginia Criminal Attorney is ready to legally represent you in court if you are charged with shoplifting in the Fairfax and Northern Virginia region.
Legal Definition of Shoplifting
Shoplifting is distinctly defined in the Commonwealth of Virginia under Virginia Code 18.2-103 as deliberately grabbing goods or merchandise from a store without paying for its full value. The crime also encompasses the swapping or changing of the prices of products in order to secure a lower price.
Elements of Crime for Shoplifting Charges in Virginia
For you to be convicted of shoplifting in Virginia, the prosecution must prove beyond any reasonable doubt that you engaged in any of the following activities:
- Intentionally and willfully concealed or was in possession of wares or merchandise of a trading establishment or any store;
- Changed the value of an item by altering its price tag or placed the item in a different package with the view of paying less than the intended price;
- Assisted, counseled, or abetted another person in the commission of either of the above acts.
What Type of Offense is Shoplifting in Virginia?
The shoplifting offense falls under various legal sections of the Virginia laws depending on the value of the alleged stolen property. For instance, Virginia Code 18.2-95 treats shoplifting as grand larceny. Virginia Code 18.2-96 considers it petit larceny in which the accused can be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor depending on the value of the stolen item. Virginia Code 18.2-103 views an offense as petit larceny if the value of the property is below two hundred (200) dollars and grand larceny if the value of the stolen property is above two hundred (200) dollars.
Shoplifting is also known as retail theft and is considered a complex crime because of the various ways in which it can be committed. The complication has made the offense carry various charges depending on the legal section in which prosecutors base their charges.
Penalties for Shoplifting in Virginia
The penalties for shoplifting differs depending on how the crime is charged as described below.
Grand larceny shoplifting
This is a felony charge under Virginia Code 18.2-95 and applies if the items have a value exceeding 200 dollars. Its sentence ranges from one year to twenty years in prison. The maximum fine for this offense is 2,500 dollars. Also, this offense remains on your criminal record which puts you in jeopardy as it can render you unfit for employment or get deported if you are a non-citizen.
Petit larceny shoplifting
This offense is a class 1 misdemeanor under Virginia Code 18.2-96 and applies if the shoplifted items have a value that is less than 200 dollars. This offense attracts a maximum of twelve months in jail and/or a maximum fine of 2,500 dollars.
According to Virginia Code 18.2-103, it is a crime to knowingly receive, conceal, or trounce allegedly stolen goods. The same charges apply to any person who aids another person to escape with or hide stolen items.
The difference between the larceny forms of shoplifting and concealment is that you are only accused of concealment if you hid or concealed items after shoplifting. This means that you may take items from a store and walk away with them without hiding them, for example, in cases where the store owner is not around. Since concealment is a form of shoplifting, its penalties depend on the value of the items taken; thus, it can carry grand larceny or petit larceny charges.
The court may order you to pay civil damage fees to the store owner. The fees are not constant across all shoplifting convictions and they depend on the owner's preference and whether the product can be sold. The minimum amount you can pay is 50 dollars, but the court may force you to pay 350 dollars if the item is capable of being sold. Additionally, you may be required to cover the merchant's legal fees if they win their case in seeking civil damages.
What to do When Accused of Shoplifting
Stay put, do not flee store security.
The attempt to flee from store security is the first mistake that most people make on being accused. Fleeing is a visible sign of guilt that presents a strong case against you. You should cooperate with the security personnel to be able to build a strong defense for your case. Additionally, the police are usually not involved in this first arrest of shoplifting, and this gives you ample time to make up with an out-of-court settlement with the vendor.
Contact a criminal defense lawyer.
Contacting a criminal defense lawyer should be one of your immediate courses of action because shoplifting is classified under criminal offenses. An attorney can challenge the case filed against you during your trial and help you attain a lesser charge or possible dismissal of the case.
Anything you say will be used against you in court.
Any arrested person has the right to remain silent. Aimlessly or recklessly talking to the cops on your arrest may help the investigators to have enough evidence against you. Instead of trying to talk out of your accusations with the police, seek legal representation from a criminal defense lawyer. The attorney analyzes all the facts that you present against the charges filed against you and devises the best course of action.
You can only make hasty restitution in case the vendor asks you to do so. You can also return the item before charges are pressed – this may not get you off the hook but most likely the vendor may not want to press charges. If you are innocent and considering trial, then you should not make any repayment. Your defense lawyer is in a better position to give advice on the best action.
Constantly make court appearances
Unless it is a municipal ordinance, you are to make all you court appearances, failure of which may result in an arrest warrant for your shoplifting offense. Usually, the judge may consider expunction after you successfully serve your sentence. Your defense team can successfully help you out of this quagmire only if you cooperate with court orders.
What are the Possible Legal Defenses for Virginia Shoplifting Charges?
There are various defense strategies that your attorney can use to either get a dismissal of the case or reduce the charges related to shoplifting. Some of these defense strategies include:
Lack of intent
For shoplifting charges to be leveled against you, there must have been an intention to steal or take the items in question. As such, an attorney can argue that you mistakenly walked out of the store with the item following a distraction by such things like a cell phone call, text message, or even an unruly child. It is also possible to argue that emotional trauma or anxieties overcame you. In all these scenarios, it would be reasonable to conclude that you did not intend to steal the items. Thereby, a nullification of the charge can happen depending on the judge’s discretion.
Mistake of facts
In some situations, your attorney can argue that the facts related to the value of the item you are accused of stealing are wrongly presented. For instance, a cashier or store attendant may provide a record of the alleged stolen items that contradicts with the actual items you took. Consequently, you are not responsible for the allegedly shoplifted item(s).
Consent (from a store or merchandiser) to take items can occur if you paid the actual price of the items before leaving. If shoplifting charges are filed against you and you have the receipt for the items, it is reasonable to claim that there is no legal basis for the shoplifting charges. Ensure that you present any document that reveals you legitimately purchased the items before the court.
In other circumstances, the defense team can raise doubts in the proceedings by putting the owner of the items at a position of consent, for example, by arguing that the shop attendant had let the accused check an item like a gold watch outside the shop to see if it sparkles in the sun. This is the crux to the case and can alter the charge if the seller is placed in the position of consenting to have the item out of the store without paying.
No charge due to an unwillingness to pursue the case
Nolle pros is a legal term that indicates an unwillingness to pursue the case. The prosecution or complainant can be unwilling to pursue the case if an attorney satisfactorily argues under proven circumstances that the defendant had accidentally not paid for an item from a store or if the store representative does not appear before the court. The charge can, thus, be dismissed if the prosecutor is unable to prove shoplifting and the defense attorney proves other circumstances that do not amount to shoplifting.
The prosecution may have firm evidence that there was an act of shoplifting – for instance, willful acts of concealment as per your confession can give the prosecution prima facie (or enough evidence) to press the charges. A plea bargain is an excellent strategy to seek a reduction of the charges pressed. As an example, your attorney may seek a reduction of the felony charge to a misdemeanor to lessen the severity of the jail term or the fines after examining the actual worth of said items.
Sometimes, though, prosecutors strike a balance for plea bargain only if the defendant serves some time in jail.
The role of Virginia Sentencing Commission Guidelines for Shoplifting Convicts
The main aim of the Virginia Sentencing Commission is to ensure a just criminal rebut for convicted misdemeanors and felonies. This commission was created within the judiciary to serve as agent of the Supreme Court in Virginia. The Commonwealth of Virginia began putting such guidelines to use in 2002. The guidelines outline what is termed as appropriate punishments for every convict, even though judges are not required to follow these guidelines because they are not absolute. Some of the guidelines applied include criminal history, gender, work history, family history, and marital status.
These guidelines give an expected set of outcomes for the charge and can, therefore, assist a defendant and his/her defense lawyer to choose between a plea and trial. Virginia state judges are encouraged to sentence based on a factoring list. For example, the state judge may opt for a prison sentence for an unemployed young man for shoplifting and press community service for an employed young woman accused of shoplifting for the same charge – this scenario is due to the perception that single and unemployed males are most likely to commit another crime. However, while facing the charges, bear in mind that a Virginia State Judge is not inclined to follow the guidelines.
Shoplifting Criminal Record – Can My Record be Expunged?
The most common concern in shoplifting cases is how long your shoplifting conviction record can last. It is important to note that the conviction lasts forever on your record if you don't petition for expunction. However, the state has strict laws that govern expunction of any criminal record. The primary determinant of whether your record will be expunged is the final disposition of the charge against you.
If you are arrested for shoplifting or any criminal offense for the first time and found not guilty, your arrest record may be expunged. This expunction is not automatic; you have to enter a guilty plea otherwise you lose eligibility for this program. Also, you are eligible for expunction if you are accused of a misdemeanor but don't have prior charges unless the prosecutor can provide adequate reasons why the court should deny you the expunction request.
You may also get your criminal record expunged if the court established that another person used your identity to commit the crime. Additionally, if you were convicted, but an appellate court overturned the convictions, you can seek for an absolute pardon to clear your record.
Although you have the right to petition for expunction under the above circumstances, it is crucial to note that a prosecutor may deny your request. Your criminal history may also affect the petition. Therefore, seeking an experienced attorney to analyze the best option for you is essential if you want your criminal record expunged.
What are the Long-term Consequences of a Shoplifting Conviction in Virginia?
Shoplifting is one of the severe property theft crimes in Virginia. In as much as you may view the crime as a lesser offense compared to other crimes such as robbery, a shoplifting conviction carries long jail sentences and hefty fines.
Moreover, being convicted of shoplifting may deny you some constitutional privileges like the right to vote or own a firearm. Sometimes, your livelihood is put in jeopardy as employers shy away from giving you contracts with such records. Getting a loan can prove difficult after conviction and your financial goals can stall. Advantageous opportunities like education may be hampered as you serve a sentence for shoplifting.
A criminal record of shoplifting can attract additional fines on other crimes like DUI. Besides, the owner of the purportedly shoplifted item may procure a civil suit in a bid to recover their lost item thereby involving you in back-and-forth battles and legal wrangles.
Charges Related to Shoplifting
Manufacture or sale of devices to shield against electronic detection of shoplifting
Virginia Code 18.2-105.2 makes it a crime to sell, manufacture, possess or distribute any devices (such as laminated bags and coated bags) whose design and intended use is to shield shoplifted items from being detected by anti-theft electronic alarm sensors. Any person facing this charge must have had the intention to shoplift merchandise. This offense is a class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of a year in jail.
Removal of a shopping cart from store premises
According to Virginia Code, Section 18.2-102.1, it is unlawful to remove any shopping cart from the premise of the owner, his/her agent, employee, or servant without their consent. Under this section, a shopping cart is a pushcart usually provided to the buyers by merchant stores (such as drugstores, grocery stores, and markets) to help in transportation of the commodities in the stores or outside the stores in some cases. Here, a premise is any parking space that is reserved by a car owner for parking their car(s) or their patron's car(s). This offense is a class 3 misdemeanor.
Find a Legal Representative Near Me
Attorneys of Virginia Criminal Attorney law firm handle all cases related to shoplifting for people living in Fairfax and Northern Virginia. Call our Fairfax Criminal Lawyer at 703-718-5533 today to talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney and begin your journey of legal representation.