Breaking it down
Petit larceny in Virginia essentially is small theft. The term can be applied to a variety of types of theft.
- A theft is petit larceny when you steal something worth less than $5 directly from a person, or taking something worth less than $200 indirectly, such as taking unattended money from a countertop.
- Petit larceny usually is a misdemeanor, but can be a felony on a third or subsequent conviction.
- Having no intent to steal the property may be a defense to a petit larceny charge.
Suppose you’re walking through your office and spot a $20 bill sitting on the counter in the lunchroom. No one is around, so you think for a moment, and then pick up the bill and put it in your pocket. That act of taking cash that belongs to someone else could land you a charge of petit, or “petty,” larceny in Virginia.
Petit Larceny Defined
Larceny basically is theft. The crime of larceny comes from common law and isn’t specifically defined in Virginia statute, although Virginia Code does identify certain forms of theft, such as shoplifting, as larceny. The Virginia Code also draws the distinction between grand larceny and petit larceny, and lays out penalties for each.
Under Virginia Code §18.2-96 petit larceny is taking something worth less than $5 directly from a person, or taking something worth less than $200 not from a person. If someone is holding a $1 bill in his or her hand and you take it, that’s a theft directly from a person that could be charged as petit larceny. Taking that unattended $20 bill is a theft not from a person and also could be charged as petit larceny.
Penalties for Petit Larceny
Petit larceny generally is a serious misdemeanor, unless you have multiple convictions.
On your first conviction, petit larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a maximum $2,500 fine.
A conviction for petit larceny when you have any kind of previous larceny conviction in Virginia or any other state also is a Class 1 misdemeanor, but comes with a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail.
A third or subsequent conviction is a Class 6 felony, with penalties of one to five years in prison, although a judge or jury is allowed to impose a lesser sentence, and a maximum $2,500 fine.
Defenses for Petit Larceny
When you’re charged with larceny, Virginia courts have said a prosecutor has to prove that you:
- Took someone else’s property
- The property had value
- The person didn’t consent to your taking the property
- You intended to steal the property
Perhaps the most important piece of that is the intent to steal. It can be difficult for a prosecutor to prove your frame of mind, and if there’s evidence that you took the property by accident or mistake, or that you believed the owner had given consent, then an experienced Roanoke defense attorney may be able to successfully fight your petit larceny charge.
Another way to defend against a petit larceny charge is to challenge whether the property was actually taken, as that term is defined in the law. Virginia courts have said that taking means removing the property from the owner’s possession or control, and that usually means actually holding or grasping it in your hands. If you never picked up the property, or even if you picked it up for just a second but never removed it from the owner’s control, a good lawyer can argue that you didn’t actually take the property.
Facing a petit larceny charges?
If you’ve been charged with petit larceny in Virginia, call Copenhaver, Ellett & Derrico today for a free consultation with a Roanoke defense attorney who can help evaluate the details of your case and your options. For an appointment at our office, you can reach us at (540) 343-9349.