My name is Willie Mejia, I am a Virginia attorney, and today, I’d like to take some time to
discuss an offense that unfortunately, I see very often; “larceny.”
That’s just a fancy legal term that refers to theft.
Sometimes people make a mistake
And impulsively take something they want without paying for it.
Other times, perhaps they bought something
Not realizing it was stolen.
What if you took something with the intent of returning it?
Does that change anything?
Read on for some insight into how theft is defined in the Virginia Code.
Types of Larceny in Virginia
At its most basic, there are two different types of larceny offenses in Virginia:
Petit larceny and grand larceny.
They are virtually identical,
Except the first is a misdemeanor, and the second is a felony.
What separates these offenses in Virginia
Is the amount that is alleged to have been stolen;
If you are charged with a larceny offense,
And the value at issue is less than $500, then it’s a misdemeanor;
if it’s more than $500, it’s grand larceny.
Many common items are worth more than $500,
So the felony is often quite common to see,
And it can quite a shock if it’s your first offense.
Note too that the misdemeanor is punishable
By up to a year in jail, and the felony, up to twenty years in jail.
Definition according to Virginia’s Code
Larceny is defined by Virginia as
“the taking of personal goods of some intrinsic value, belonging to another, without his permission, and with the intent to deprive the owner thereof permanently.”
This applies to items belonging to a person,
And items belonging to a store or corporation
(although that’s typically thought of as “shoplifting”).
As you can see, it’s a very basic definition–
A person who takes something without paying is committing larceny.
It also covers tricks like hiding items under a shopping cart,
or placing them in a baby stroller to get past store employees.
It’s very broad, so naturally, the simplest thing to do is to always pay for what want,
Or if you can’t, leaving and returning another day.
Implications of Larceny’s charges for Immigrants
Larceny is a criminal misdemeanor,
But along with that, it is also a theft offense,
Which reflects on your character
And could have major repercussions in the future with job applications,
Character and fitness evaluations, etc.
For those who are in this country without legal status,
A conviction for larceny is especially problematic,
Because it is considered a “crime of moral turpitude,”
Meaning an offense that damages your moral character.
This is why it is extremely important to hire an attorney
If you are charged with this offense,
Even if you’re a citizen but especially if you are not.
A charge of this kind on your record
Could result in your green card not being able to be renewed,
Or in the worst case if you are here without status, deportation.
Remain silence and contact a lawyer
A lawyer is especially important
In situations where you are charged with larceny,
But you did nothing wrong, but the person you were with did.
In cases like this, police officers tend to charge all parties involved,
Regardless of what the facts might indicate.
Although you may be scared
And wish to explain yourself to police officers,
DO NOT DO THIS.
Silence is your friend.
Even if you did nothing wrong,
Don’t explain it to the officer.
The reason this is important is
Because theft offenses require proof of intent to steal.
This is almost always why police want you to talk,
Because you can only be guilty if you knew you were taking something,
Or, if you knew someone else was taking something
(this would make you an accessory to the offense,
Unless the moment your friend took something,
You immediately left without them).
Even if you didn’t know,
But especially if you found out and then did nothing, keep quiet.
It is one hundred percent true
That police officers will use everything you say against you.
Staying silent keeps you safe because,
Without your own words to use like a weapon,
It will be difficult for officers and prosecutors to say that you knew about what was going on.
Additionally, never ever take credit for someone stealing something
If it wasn’t actually you.
This does you no favors whatsoever.
The legal system does not care if you “take credit”
Just to save your friend.
Friends come and go,
But your criminal history stays with you forever.
Do not buy things online if you believe they are stolen
In today’s world, it’s easy to purchase stuff online,
From legitimate retailers and from other people.
But sometimes, you don’t know if what you’re being sold is stolen from someone else.
This is another type of larceny,
“receiving stolen goods,” defined at § 18.2-108.
Like larceny, it requires knowledge that what you were buying,
You knew, or “believed” the items were stolen.
Your best protection here is to always document your interactions,
With receipts and screenshots of conversations,
And to stick with buying from people you know,
Leave tools at home if you are going to a shop
Finally, I’d like to mention one additional charge
That comes up often with regard to larceny offenses.
This is “possession of burglarious tools,” defined at § 18.2-94.
The section makes it a felony to possess any “any tools, implements or outfit”
With the intent to commit burglary, robbery or larceny.
This is an extremely broad section
That covers literally anything from nail clippers and scissors
To legitimate tools like bolt cutters and hammers.
The law also says that just having these tools
Is proof of your intent to steal–
It’s a very police-friendly statute.
The best thing to do then, is to leave any tools in your vehicle or at home.
If you’re charged with a theft offense,
Just having items like this in your purse or backpack,
Even absent any other evidence,
Could be enough to charge you with a felony.
Until this law changes,
It is always best to be safe
And avoid walking around with these items on you.
As you can see, theft offenses in Virginia are deceptively complex;
It’s not as simple as just prohibiting taking things without paying.
At the same time, if you always pay for your goods,
Leave any unnecessary tools in at home or work,
And buy only from trusted sources,
You can avoid having to deal with the hassle of explaining things in court,
And avoid having these kinds of charges on your record.