Shoplifting in Virginia

Shoplifting is among the simplest of crimes to commit, which is probably why it is one of the most common, but despite the ease of commission, the punishment for shoplifting in Virginia may be a bit more than most bargained for.

Shoplifting is theft.  Whether you conceal the items on your person, alter the price tags, switch containers or assist someone else to do the same, it is still theft.  A merchant does not have to wait until you leave the store to apprehend you and they do have a right to detain you if they reasonably suspect you of shoplifting.  Simply placing the items in your pocket or bag or otherwise concealing the items while you’re still on the premises is enough to create a legal presumption that you intended to steal the items. 

If the items are valued at less than $200, it is considered petit larceny in Virginia and as such is a Class 1 misdemeanor.  If the items are valued at $200 or more, then the offense is considered grand larceny.  While there is nothing “grand” about $200 in stolen items, grand larceny is a Class 6 felony.   The maximum punishment for a Class 1 misdemeanor is up to a year in jail and up to a $2500 fine.  Certainly a lot more time and fines than stealing less than $200 in merchandise and definitely giving credence to the old adage, “crime does not pay.” As you can guess, the punishment for grand larceny is harsher.  As a Class 6 felony the maximum punishment for grand larceny is imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than five years.  However the buck does not stop there; repeat offenders in Virginia get a special bonus. A second offense for larceny in Virginia, whether petit or grand, comes with a statutory minimum sentence of thirty days in jail.  For anyone with a job, thirty days away from work has serious implications on your finances, much more so if you lose your job to boot.  And after conviction simply finding a job with a larceny conviction on your record is another form of punishment in and of itself.  For a third offense, the punishment gets much worse.  No matter how much the items are valued, a third larceny offense is a Class 6 felony; the same as grand larceny.  By any measure, 1-5 years in prison is a lot of time behind bars, but for three petit larceny convictions which total less than $600 in stolen merchandise, it‘s downright criminal. While it is common knowledge that shoplifting is a crime, what is less known is that theft is considered to be a crime of moral turpitude.  A crime of moral turpitude means it is criminal act that violates the accepted moral standards of the community.  While this doesn’t seem like much, the repercussions can be significant.  For one, being convicted of a crime of moral turpitude impeaches your credibility.  If you ever find yourself testifying as a witness in court, while most any other criminal convictions are irrelevant, you can expect questions about any convictions involving lying, cheating or stealing.  All things being equal, if it’s your word against another, your previous conviction for theft is weighed against you, painting you as the liar.    If you find yourself facing a shoplifting charge in Virginia, don’t give up hope.  The Commonwealth must still prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and you have a right to an attorney to assist you with your defense.  Sometimes the merchant makes a mistake or there is a misunderstanding.  Even when the question of guilt is undeniable, an attorney can assist you through the trial and sentencing and hopefully reduce some of the fallout.  Before you find yourself charged with shoplifting, the best advice you can receive is don’t do it.   However, if it is too late to employ this advice, contact us to discuss how we can resolve this case as favorably as possible for you.


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