A Quick Guide to Virginia’s Petty Theft and Larceny Laws

In Virginia, petty theft is defined as (1) the theft of any item worth less than $500, or (2) the theft of any item worth less than $5 from another’s person.

By itself, “petty theft” might not sound like a big deal. Virginia courts, however, treat petty theft and larceny as very serious crimes.

In addition, Virginia’s property laws can often be confusing and unintuitive. As a result, far too many people plead guilty to petty theft charges without fully understanding the consequences of their actions.

In this guide, we’ll go over the basics of what Virginia’s petty theft, larceny, and shoplifting laws. Then, we’ll review the criminal and civil consequences that these charges can have.

Finally, we’ll talk about how you can fight against petty theft and larceny charges with the help of an experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney.

What are Virginia’s Larceny Laws?

A woman in the act of shoplifting or stealing puts an item under her clothes

There are two general types of larceny in Virginia: grand larceny and petty larceny (also sometimes called “petit larceny”).

While crimes such as shoplifting or car theft can be found in separate code sections, they still follow this basic distinction between grand and petty larceny.

Grand Larceny

The Virginia code defines all of the following actions as grand larceny:

  • The theft of an item, or items, worth more than $500 (not from an individual’s person).
  • The theft of an item, or items, worth more than $5 from an individual’s person.
  • Stealing a firearm under any circumstances.

As a common example, stealing a piece of jewelry ($500+) from someone’s dresser would count as grand larceny. Similarly, pickpocketing someone’s wallet ($5+) would also count as grand larceny, since you’re directly stealing from their person.

Grand larceny is a felony in Virginia, punishable with massive fines and significant jail time. While the specific penalties depend on the circumstances of the crime, a conviction will usually entail a prison sentence of between 12 months and 20 years.

In some cases, judges may choose to prosecute grand larceny cases as misdemeanors. However, the chance of this happening will depend on the specific elements of your case.

Petty Larceny

“Petty larceny,” “petit larceny,” and “petty theft” all mean the same thing in Virginia.

Specifically, stealing an item, or items, worth less than $500 can lead to petty larceny charges. Similarly, stealing an item worth less than $5 from another’s person can also lead to petty larceny charges.

In this way, stealing $10 from someone’s pocket would count as grand larceny, while stealing a $100 chair from your neighbor’s porch would only count as petty larceny.

It all depends on how the theft occurred, as well as how much the stolen items cost.

Courts normally punish petty larceny as a Class 1 misdemeanor. This means that it is punishable with a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 12 months of jail time. This is in addition to any civil penalties.

Shoplifting

The Virginia Code also includes a specific section which defines several different types of shoplifting. The main purpose of this shoplifting law is to clarify that all of the following acts constitute larceny:

  • Taking possession of and concealing merchandise without intending to pay for it.
  • Altering the price of goods.
  • Assisting another in doing either of the above.

Buying stolen goods can also result in shoplifting charges. However, this only applies if you knew or should have known that the goods were stolen upon purchase.

Also remember that shoplifting goods worth less than $500 counts as petty larceny, while shoplifting goods worth $500 or more is grand larceny.

Miscellaneous Larceny

Finally, the Virginia Code also lays out several penalties for a number of miscellaneous types of larceny and theft. The types most likely to come up at a trial include:

As a note on the final type of larceny, the theft of a vehicle almost always counts as grand larceny in Virginia. However, if you can show you intended to return the vehicle you may face lesser unauthorized use charges instead.

What are the Civil Penalties for Larceny in Virginia?

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If you are found guilty of criminal larceny, you will likely also face several civil penalties. In most cases, this means that you have to either return or pay for the stolen property.

In cases of shoplifting, the civil penalties are usually significantly larger due to how the law is structured. According to the Virginia Code, the merchant from whom the person shoplifted the item is entitled to:

  • Two times the value of the stolen merchandise, or $50, whichever is more (if the merchant recovers the merchandise, the maximum they are allowed to recover is $350).
  • Reasonable attorney’s fees, up to $150.

Finally, keep in mind that it is possible for you to be found not guilty in criminal court while still having to pay civil damages.

For example, if you accidentally shoplift an item and then lose that item, you still need to pay the item’s owner.

How Likely is Jail Time for Larceny in Virginia?

closeup pickpocket's hand stealing purse from backpacker

Jail time is a possible outcome of any larceny conviction. However, the likelihood that you’ll actually spend time in jail greatly depends on (1) the exact charge, and (2) whether or not it is your first offense.

In general, grand larceny charges will lead to one or more years of prison time, even for a first offense. To avoid this, your best chance is talking to a lawyer about getting your charges reduced.

On the other hand, it’s relatively uncommon for you to go to jail for a first offense of petty larceny. However, this changes if you have been convicted for any type of larceny before. If so, you will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail.

Key Takeaways

There are a few things you should keep in mind when facing down a petty larceny charge in Virginia:

  • There’s an important difference between petty larceny (misdemeanor) and grand larceny (felony). In general, the distinction lies in the value of the stolen goods as well as whether you stole the goods from another’s person.
  • A grand larceny conviction will usually result in a prison sentence of at least one year.
  • In most cases, your first offense of petty larceny or shoplifting will not result in jail time. However, a second offense will usually include a mandatory 30 days in jail.
  • In addition to fines and fees, you may also be required to pay civil penalties if you are convicted of any kind of larceny.

Most importantly, if you are charged with any kind of larceny in Virginia you should consult a lawyer well in advance of your court date.

An experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney can help you understand the nature and possible consequences of your charges. They can also represent you, allowing you to achieve the best possible outcome for your case in court.

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