Petit Theft/Shoplifting

Petit Theft / Shoplifting

Petit larceny can be a lot of things. Shoplifting is one example of a theft offense that can be a form of petit larceny. The statutes spells out two ways a theft offense may be considered petit larceny:
  • Taking cash or property worth less than $5 from a person
  • Taking cash or property worth less than $200 not from a person
“From a person” means taking something that’s on another person’s body or in his or her physical possession or immediate control. Grabbing a wallet out of someone’s hand or snatching a purse from someone’s shoulder would be theft from a person.
“Not from a person” is a more indirect type of theft. If the person’s wallet is inside a locker at a gym and you take it while the person is working out or taking a shower, the wallet isn’t in his or her physical possession or immediate control. That would be a type of theft not from a person.

Petit Theft Defense

Going back to the common law definition of the offense, to convict you of larceny a prosecutor has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:
  • Took personal goods
  • Of some intrinsic value
  • From another person
  • Without his or her consent
  • With the intent to steal
There are a couple of ways that we can approach unraveling the prosecution’s arguments, depending on what evidence and witnesses the prosecutor puts forward.

No Taking

Under common law, to establish that you took something, you have to have carried it away or generally removed it from the dominion of the owner. For example, the Virginia Supreme Court in the 2008 case Britt v. Commonwealth said a defendant has to “hold, seize, or grasp the property, with his hands or otherwise.” So if you didn’t actually take the item into your hands, or if you only picked up that wallet for a moment but never really deprived the owner of control, you may have a defense to the theft charge.
But you may be considered to have taken the property if you instructed another person to grab it under the 1980 case of Turner v. Commonwealth.

Lack of Intent

One way a good lawyer with experience fighting theft charges could defend you is by putting on evidence or witnesses that challenge the idea you intended to steal the cash or property.
Sometimes what is perceived as a theft is really just an accident or a mistake. You and another person have identical briefcases and you pick up the wrong one, or you put an item on the bottom of your shopping cart at the grocery store and forget about it when you check out because your mind is occupied with making sure your children get their homework done after dinner.
If you didn’t have the required intent, your case may be dismissed.

Consent

Another way to fight a petit theft charge is to establish that you had consent or believed you had consent to take the property. That’s basically another way of saying you had no intent to steal.
What is Virginia Petit Theft?
VA Code § 18.2-96 explains that petit larceny includes committing “simple larceny not from the person of another of goods and chattels of the value of less than $200.” If the value of the goods is $200 or more, it would fall under the grand larceny statute defined under VA Code § 18.2-95. In that case, the punishment can include “imprisonment in a state correctional facility for not less than one nor more than twenty years or, in the discretion of the jury or court trying the case without a jury, be confined in jail for a period not exceeding twelve months or fined not more than $2,500, either or both.”
Often times, larceny is charged under the “concealment” statute, which makes it easier for the prosecution to prove its case. The statute is found under Virginia Code § 18.2-103 and makes it larceny to conceal merchandise in a store, even if the person doesn’t leave the store. It also makes it larceny to alter price tags of merchandise.
What are the Penalties for Virginia Petit Theft?
Virginia Code §18.2-11 sets the penalty for Class 1 misdemeanors at up to 12 months in jail and/or a maximum $2,500 fine.
If it is a first-time petit theft charge, the charge may be dismissed upon participation in an informal diversion program, including an anti-theft class, and/or completing a certain amount of community service.
However, there’s a statute setting special penalties for multiple petit larceny convictions. Virginia Code §18.2-104 sets a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail when an individual is convicted of petit larceny and has a previous larceny conviction of any type either in Virginia or in another state.
A third or subsequent conviction is a Class 6 felony with penalties including one to five years in prison and/or a maximum $2,500 fine. Judges and juries generally have the discretion to give lighter sentences of less than 12 months for this class of felony.

We will always fight for you

Everyone deserves the best defense possible, and our criminal defense attorneys are prepared to fight for you. If you’ve been charged with petit larceny in Virginia, we can help explore all of your options to get the best possible result in your case.
Call Raj Dua at (703) 382-7300 or email rdua@dualawfirm.com for a free consultation.

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