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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.
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.

Charged with petit larceny or shoplifting? Contact Dua Law Firm today

Each and every individual deserves an effective defense when charged with allegedly committing a crime. It is one of the bedrock principles of our democracy. This is why, if you or a loved one is charged with shoplifting or petit larceny, it is so important to take action by contacting an experienced Fairfax criminal defense attorney with Dua Law Firm. Our legal team stands ready to fight for you. 
Call Raj Dua at (703) 382-7300 or email [email protected] for a free, confidential consultation.

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