Theft in Virginia includes a range of offenses, from shoplifting a pack of gum or writing a bad check at the grocery store to embezzling millions. Some theft offenses are considered violent crimes that count toward Virginia’s “three strikes” rule and can result in a lifetime prison sentence. Proving — or defending against — theft charges often hinges on small details and nuances that an experienced criminal defense lawyer is best equipped to evaluate. A conviction often depends on the prosecutor proving intent or knowledge. The dollar value of the items alleged to have been stolen typically will govern the length of jail or prison time. Sentencing also can be affected by whether the theft involved direct contact with the person, such as pick-pocketing, or was indirect, such as taking something from an unattended purse.
Theft Offenses in Virginia
Robbery in Virginia is essentially any kind of theft involving violence or a threat of violence. It falls under the larceny category and can carry serious penalties — up to life in prison if the defendant has two previous convictions for violent crimes. Robbery can include crimes such as home invasions, purse snatchings, or entry into a business if the crime is committed by threat, intimidation, or force. Use of force may involve a deadly weapon such as a gun, knife, or bomb, or it may not involve a weapon at all. The offense is considered armed robbery if a weapon is used. Penalties for armed robbery are more severe.
- Burglary & Breaking and Entering — VA Code §18.2-89 to §18.2-92
In Virginia, the crime of burglary is defined different ways, but at its heart involves gaining access to a home or building using force or without permission of the resident, and with the intention to commit a felony once inside. Breaking and entering is one component of burglary. “Breaking” is defined as opening or creating an entrance into a building, while “entering” involves either a person or an inanimate object going inside. Burglary is a felony and is considered a violent crime in Virginia. A conviction can result in a lengthy prison sentence and the stigma of being labeled a violent offender.
- Conspiracy to Commit Larceny — VA Code §18.2-23
Virginia makes conspiracy to commit larceny a distinct felony from the larceny itself. Conspiracy may be charged when a person works with a person or people to commit larceny, or counsels or helps in the performance of a larceny when the combined value of the goods or merchandise taken is worth more than $200. Willfully concealing goods or merchandise on the premises of a store or mercantile is considered sufficient evidence in and of itself to establish conspiracy. Conspiracy to commit larceny is a felony charge in Virginia punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
- Grand Larceny — VA Code §18.2-95
Grand larceny is defined in Virginia as taking an item worth $5 or more directly from a person, such as by picking their pocket, or taking something worth $200 or more indirectly, such as from an unattended bag, with the intent to steal. Stealing a firearm also is considered grand larceny in Virginia regardless of the firearm’s value and whether it was taken directly or indirectly. All credit card theft offenses also are charged as grand larceny in the state regardless of the value. Grand larceny is a felony and in Virginia carries a standard maximum sentence of 20 years, but also can result in a life sentence if the state’s three strikes rule applies.
- Shoplifting — VA Code §18.2-103
Virginia prosecutors may charge someone with shoplifting when a person goes into a store or mercantile and intentionally takes goods or merchandise without paying the full purchase price, or when someone defrauds the owner of the value of the items. Acts that are considered shoplifting include willfully concealing or taking possession of the goods or merchandise, or altering the price tag or switching the item to a different container. Counseling or helping someone to conceal items or alter the price tag also can result in a shoplifting charge under Virginia law. If the items are worth less than $200, shoplifting is petit larceny. It’s grand larceny if the items are worth more than $200.
- Petit Larceny — VA Code §18.2-96
A theft is considered petit (usually pronounced “petty”) larceny in Virginia when someone takes something valued at less than $5 directly from a person, such as by pick-pocketing, or indirectly takes goods and chattels worth less then $200, such as from an unattended bag. Virginia law treats petit larceny as a misdemeanor.
- Obtaining Money Under False Pretenses — VA Code §18.2-178
Among the crimes defined as larceny under Virginia law is the offense of using a false pretense or token to intentionally defraud someone of money, a gift certificate, or other property that legally can be the subject of larceny. Whether the crime is a misdemeanor or felony hinges on the dollar value of the items stolen. The same statute makes it a felony to intentionally obtain someone’s signature through false pretenses.
- Bad Checks — VA Code §18.2-181
Virginia law makes it a crime to make or attempt to use a check, draft, or order for payment when the person knows there are insufficient funds to pay the check, and has an intent to defraud the payee. If the check is $200 or more, the offense is a felony; less than $200 is a misdemeanor.
- Receiving Stolen Property — VA Code §18.2-108
A person who knowingly buys or receives stolen goods from another person, or helps to conceal stolen goods, can be prosecuted for larceny in Virginia even if the person alleged to have stolen the property is not convicted. The statute also makes it a larceny offense to buy or receive goods during the course of a police investigation when the person believes the goods were stolen.
- Forgery and Uttering — VA Code §18.2-172
Forgery and uttering are two different crimes covered in Virginia by one statute. The Code of Virginia makes it a felony to falsely make (“forge”) a writing, such as a document or signature, or to knowingly attempt to pass or show (“utter”) the writing to the prejudice of someone else’s rights with the intent to defraud. When a person both forges a writing and tries to use it, two felony crimes can be charged.
- Embezzlement — VA Code §18.2-111
Embezzlement is a type of larceny offense in which someone wrongfully or fraudulently uses money, financial instruments, or property entrusted by an employer, court, or company, such as using a company credit card to go on an unauthorized personal vacation, or diverting proceeds from a charity fundraiser into a personal account.
Facing theft charges in Virginia?
If you’ve been charged with a theft crime in Virginia, the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our Roanoke office, call us at (540) 343-9349.