Virginia Petit Larceny

As in the offense of assault and battery, the Virginia Code does not define the elements of larceny or embezzlement but leaves it to common law to establish those specific elements.

Common law defines larceny or theft as a taking, not from the person, with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the item.

In laymen’s terms, “larceny” generally means “theft”.  Depending on the value of the items that were taken, theft crimes will be divided into either petit larceny or grand larceny. Even a conviction for petit larceny on your criminal record can have devastating effects on many aspects of your life. It is wise to seek the counsel of an experienced Virginia criminal defense lawyer to ensure that your rights are not violated and your freedom is protected.

Theft crimes carry a very straightforward definition — the unlawful taking of another person’s property with the intent to permanently deprive that person of their property. The distinction between petit theft and grand theft is purely determined by the value of the items. All theft charges can carry stiff penalties upon conviction, including fines, restitution and potential jail time.

Virginia Code §18.2-95 to 18.2-96 define whether the act will qualify as grand larceny or petit larceny. Among several other criteria, the main distinction between the two is the value of the item taken. Larceny of an item with a value of $200 or more is considered grand larceny in Virginia while a value of less than $200 is considered petit larceny. Grand larceny also includes theft from the person of money or thing with a value of $5 or more or larceny of a firearm not from the person. Petit larceny includes theft from the person of money or thing with a value of less than $5.

Another significant distinction between grand larceny and petit larceny lies in the level of punishment. Grand larceny is an unclassified felony with a specific punishment assigned by the code section of not less than one year in prison but not more than twenty or in the discretion of a jury or judge trying the case, a jail sentence of not more than 12 months and/or a fine not to exceed $2,500. Petit larceny is a class 1 misdemeanor offense.

What is Petit Larceny or Petit Theft in Virginia?
To be convicted of Petit Larceny or Petit Theft, the Commonwealth must prove either:

  1. Stealing something from a property or business valued at less than $200.00; or
  2. Stealing something directly off of a person which is valued at less than $5.00.

The critical difference between the two different ways someone can be charged with petit larceny or petit theft in Virginia is the method by which the person is alleged to have stolen – whether it be from a business or physical location or whether it be directly off a person (or pickpocketing).

Petit larceny involves the theft of merchandise valued at less than $200. Typically, petit theft is charged as a misdemeanor and a conviction can carry penalties such as a maximum of 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.

Enhanced Penalties for Multiple Offenders
If a person gets convicted of three or more petit larceny or petit theft charges, the offense will be upgraded to a Class 6 Felony, which means the person can be sentenced to up to 5 years in jail.  Moreover, the law requires 3rd (or more) time offenders serve a minimum mandatory jail sentence of 30 days in jail.

First Time Offender Program
Some counties in Northern Virginia allow a defendant who is charged with a first time petit theft-related offense, to have the charges dismissed if the defendant complies with certain requirements.  These requirements generally include the following:

  • Defendant has never been found guilty of a theft-related offense and has never enrolled in the First Offender program for a theft-related offense;
  • Defendant pleads guilty, no contest, or facts sufficient for a finding of guilt for petit larceny;
  • Enroll in and complete an education course related to shoplifting and petit larceny;
  • Complete 50 hours of community service through OAR (Offenders Aid and Restoration);
  • Comply with all conditions of probation;
  • Payment of court costs and education course (approximately $100.00); and
  • Be of general good behavior for a period of at least six months with no violations of law during this period of time.

Why Should I Consider Not Taking Advantage of the First Offender Program?
The First Offender Program is a great program for defendants to take advantage of if they know they would be found guilty of the offense.  In order to know whether to take the First Offender program, it is important to speak with an attorney as taking this route may not always be the best result for your particular circumstances.  For example, you should probably not enroll in the program if:

  • You are not guilty of the offense:  You will need to speak with an attorney before reaching this conclusion as there may be potential suppression defenses or other technical legal defenses which you may not be aware of which may help you win your case. This is particularly important in cases where the Defendant knows they may be charged again in the future and may not want to use their “first offender” pass on a case they may win, particularly since multiple offenses will raise the penalty to a Felony offense with mandatory minimum jail time.
  • Severe immigration consequences:  If you are not a United States citizen, it is extremely important to speak with an attorney before entering into the First Offender program as entry into the program may be viewed as a guilty plea for purposes of immigration and may subject you to deportation or removal proceedings.
  • You do not have time to complete community service:  You may work a full-time job, have children, care for elderly parents, or other time commitments which prevent you from being able to complete 50 hours of community service.  If this is the case, please contact us when considering whether to enter into the First Offender program.
  • You are already on probation for another charge:  By entering into the First Offender program, you may be violating the terms of your probation which could cause you get a probation violation charge.

HELP TO THE PROSECUTOR:
Virginia Code §18.2-103 is the concealment statute which makes an offense grand larceny or petit larceny, depending upon the value of the goods, where there is willful concealment of goods or merchandise of any store. This statute assists the prosecutor in making out their case by making the act of concealing or hiding the item while in the store, prima facia evidence of an intent to convert and defraud the owner of the value of the goods. In other words, merely hiding an item while in a store may be sufficient for the prosecutor to establish theft of the item.

ANOTHER HELP:
In Virginia there is a legal concept called “concert of action.” This means that if you are part of a group who is involved in stealing an item, even though you did not take the item yourself, you may be found guilty as if you were the person who took the item. However, the prosecutor must establish that you are doing some activity in furtherance of the theft and not merely an innocent bystander to the activity. Frequently, the prosecutor will seek to establish that the person was acting as a lookout.

What should I do if I am charged with Petit Larceny or Petit Theft in Virginia?
At the law firm of Jad Sarsour we have years of experience defending clients against even the most complex charges. If you have been accused of petit larceny, we can aggressively defend your case in an effort to have your charges reduced or dismissed. Contact us to schedule a free consultation with a skilled Virginia attorney to discuss your situation in greater detail.

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