Fairfax Petit Larceny / Shoplifting Defense Lawyer
Being charged with shoplifting may sound like a relatively mundane or minor offense. However, if you are convicted, it means you will be left with a criminal record. This record, even for a minor offense, carries significant ramifications on your personal reputation and options in the future regarding employment, education, housing, and so forth. Being charged with shoplifting in Fairfax County can create a personal and financial burden that extends beyond the possible jail time associated with a conviction.
If you or a family member was detained for shoplifting or have been charged with petit larceny in Fairfax County, retaining effective and experienced legal counsel is extremely important. An aggressive and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney can assist you in exploring defense options for beating the charge or, at the very least, minimizing the potential impact on your life going forward.
Overview of Shoplifting Laws in Fairfax County
According to Virginia case law and Virginia Code § 18.2-96, petit larceny is defined as any person who takes goods of another, without their consent, with the intent to permanent to permanently deprive the owner of possession of the goods.
According to Virginia Code § 18.2-103, shoplifting is defined as “whoever, without authority, with the intention of converting goods or merchandise to his own or another’s use without having paid the full price thereof, or of defrauding the owner of the value of the goods or merchandise:
(i) willfully conceals or takes possession of the goods or merchandise of any store or mercantile establishment.
(ii) alters the price tag or other price marking on such goods or merchandise, or transfers the goods from one container to another.
(iii) counsels, assists, aids, or abets another in the performance of any of the above acts, when the value of the goods or merchandise involved in the offense is less than $500, shall be guilty of petit larceny and, when the value of the goods or merchandise involved in the offense is $500 or more, shall be guilty of grand larceny.”
Shoplifting and Petit Larceny
The legal term “Petit larceny” encompasses many different things, including shoplifting. There are two relevant state statutes to be aware of when it comes to being charged with alleged larceny: (i) taking cash or property valued at less than $5 from a person and (ii) taking cash or property valued at less than $500 not from a person.
The phrase “from a person” means you allegedly took something that’s on another person’s body or in their physical possession or immediate control. For example, grabbing a wallet out of a person’s hand or snatching a purse from someone’s shoulder would be considered theft from a person.
The phrase “not from a person” means an indirect type of theft allegedly occurred. If, for example, the person’s wallet is inside a locker at a gym and you are alleged to have taken it while the person was working out or taking a shower, the wallet is not in their physical possession or immediate control.
How to Fight Petit Larceny Charges
In order to be convicted of allegedly committing larceny, a Commonwealth’s Attorney has to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the following legal elements:
You (i) took personal property,
(ii) of some intrinsic value,
(iii) from another person,
(iv) without the owner’s consent, and
(v) you intended to steal the personal property.
There are certain strategies an experienced and aggressive Fairfax larceny/shoplifting defense lawyer can utilize to weaken the government’s case, depending on the available evidence and witnesses involved.
Potential Defense: No Taking Occurred
In order to establish you took someone else’s property, you have to have carried it away or generally removed it from the dominion of the property owner. For example, in Britt v. Commonwealth, a 2008 Virginia Supreme Court decision, the Court declared that a defendant has to “hold, seize, or grasp the property, with his hands or otherwise.” As a result, if you did not actually take the property into your hands, or if you only picked up the item for a moment but never really deprived the owner of control, you may have a defense to the charge of theft.
Potential Defense: Lack of Intent
One way an effective Fairfax defense lawyer could assist you in prevailing against these charges is by introducing evidence or witnesses that challenge the idea you intended to steal the property. Sometimes what is perceived as a theft is really just an accident or honest mistake. For example, it is quite possible for two people to have identical laptops, smartphones, or wallets and you pick up the wrong item, 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 was pre-occupied with other things.
The objective is to establish that you did not possess the requisite intent to actually steal property from another. If that fact is established, your criminal case may be dismissed.
Potential Defense: Consent
Another way to fight a petit theft charge is to establish that you had consent or reasonably believed you had the consent of the owner to take the property. This is basically another way of saying you lacked the intent to steal the property.