Theft Under Virginia Law
Theft in Virginia is labeled larceny, and it has two legal definitions.
Petit larceny consists of one of these acts:
- Stealing property with a value of less than $1,000
- Stealing money or something of value of less than $5 from a person
Grand larceny consists of:
- Stealing property with a value of $1,000 or more
- Taking cash or property valued at $5 or more from a person
- Stealing a firearm of any value
If you go into a tech store, pocket a flash drive, and walk out, that would be petit larceny. If you go into a jewelry store, try on an expensive diamond ring, and walk out while no one is looking, that would be grand larceny.
If you grab a woman’s designer handbag and run away with it, that’s grand larceny. If you take three dollars out of a person’s hand as they’re paying a street vendor, that’s petit larceny.
Petit larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months of incarceration and a fine of $2,500. Grand larceny is a felony that warrants up to 20 years in prison. If it’s a first-time offense and the property is valued at only slightly more than $1,000, the judge may choose to try it as a misdemeanor.
Shoplifting has its own section in the legal code, but is still considered theft, with the value of the merchandise or property being stolen determining whether it will be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. The same values pertain: less than $1,000 for a misdemeanor, and more than $1,000 for a felony.
Shoplifting, however, is more than just pocketing an item and walking out of the store. Switching price tags on merchandise or otherwise paying less than full price for the item is also considered shoplifting.
The shop owner is also entitled to recover three times the value of the property stolen as restitution, so there are civil penalties as well.
Possible Defenses and Sentencing Alternatives
In misdemeanor cases, the judge has the option to use a deferred disposition if the defendant has no prior felony convictions and has not received a previously deferred disposition for the same offense. Under this option, the defendant will be placed on probation without being found guilty.
In either a petit or grand larceny case, lack of intent, belief that the property was actually yours, or proving you had permission to take the property are often used as defenses. Duress – someone forced you into the act – is also a defense if you can prove it. You can also argue that you were high or intoxicated at the time and didn’t realize what you were doing.
If you’re charged with grand larceny, you can argue that the value of the property stolen is less than $1,000, getting your charge reduced to a misdemeanor.