According to the FBI, there were an estimated 7,919,035 property crimes in 2016. Virginia has some of the toughest anti-theft laws in the country and prosecutes all types of theft crimes from shoplifting at the dollar store to sophisticated larcenies. Read on to learn about the different types of offenses, the penalties that apply if convicted, and some of the defenses that I use to help my clients.

Larceny and other theft charges in Virginia


Virginia law refers to theft as “larceny,” which means unlawfully taking property with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it. The police charge it as either grand larceny or petit larceny.

  • Grand larceny
    • The police charge grand larceny for:
      • Theft of any property worth at least $200.
      • Stealing anything worth at least $5 directly from someone. This law is aimed at pickpockets and is often called “larceny from the person.”
      • Larceny of a firearm.
      • Car theft. People sometimes refer to “grand theft auto.” In Virginia, there is no separate offense for stealing a car. If the value of the car is $200 or more, it would be charged as grand larceny.
    • Penalties for grand larceny:
      • Felony conviction—grand larceny is an unclassified felony or a class U felony. This means the penalties do not correspond to those of class 1-6 felonies.
      • Up to 20 years in prison
      • Fines up to $2500
      • Supervised probation upon release from incarceration
      • Restitution (returning the property or paying its replacement value)
  • Petit larceny. The police charge petit larceny for theft of:
    • Less than $5 in value taken directly from someone
    • Theft of property worth less than $200.
    • Penalties for petit larceny:
      • First or second conviction:
        • Permanent class 1 misdemeanor conviction
        • Up to 12 months in jail
        • Fines up to $2500
        • Probation (usually unsupervised)
        • Restitution to the property owner
      • Petit larceny 3rd or subsequent offense: when there are two prior larceny convictions, the third offense is a class 6 felony.
        • Up to five years in prison
        • Fines up to $2500
        • Supervised probation
        • Restitution to the owner of the property

Other Virginia Theft Offenses

  • Concealment or shoplifting. The police often charge this instead of larceny if the accused does not leave the store with the merchandise. The prosecutor must prove the accused intended to steal or pay less than the full price for the goods and did one of the following:
    • Concealed merchandise
    • Altered, switched, or removed the price tag or security device
    • Helped someone else conceal merchandise or adjust the price tags
      • The police often charge a bystander for acting as a lookout or creating a diversion to distract security while a friend is shoplifting. However, simply being present while someone else shoplifts is not a crime. The accused must assist or advise the shoplifter in some way.
    • The penalties for concealment are the same as for grand larceny and petit larceny depending on whether the value of the items is $200 or more.
  • Receiving stolen property. It is only a crime for someone to receive or possess property he knows is stolen. In some cases, there is enough circumstantial evidence to prove the accused knew the property was stolen. However, this offense is often difficult to prove unless the accused admits knowing the items were stolen.
  • The penalties are the same as for larceny—if the value of the property was $200 or more, the penalties are the same as for grand larceny. Under $200, and the penalties are like petit larceny.
  • Credit card theft. This is punished as grand larceny. Without permission, it is a crime to:
    • Take a credit card
    • Keep a credit card
    • Copy a credit card number
    • There is no requirement of using the card, although using it would likely constitute additional offenses: credit card fraud or credit card forgery.
  • Selling stolen property. In Virginia, it is a Class 5 felony to knowingly sell stolen items worth at least $200. The penalty is up to ten years in prison, up to a $2500 fine, supervised probation, and restitution to victims. This is usually an additional charge to either grand larceny or receiving stolen property.
  • Attempted larceny
  • Conspiring to trespass or commit larceny
  • Larceny of animals. Stealing dogs, horses, cows, bulls, and other animals is a Class 5 felony (up to ten years in prison, up to a $2500 fine, supervised probation, restitution to victims)
  • Larceny of poultry. Theft of poultry, sheep, lamb, goats, or pigs is either petit larceny or grand larceny depending on whether the value of the animals is $200 or more.

Defenses to theft crimes in Virginia

Every case is different. Some defenses that might work, depending on the circumstances, include:

  • The police obtained evidence or incriminating statements by violating my client’s rights
  • Some or all the prosecutor’s evidence is inadmissible
  • The prosecutor cannot prove the value of the property at the time of the offense (think about how quickly an iPad depreciates in value for example)
  • The accused believed he had permission to take the property, or was just borrowing it
  • The property was abandoned, and the accused had no intent to steal from anyone
  • Insufficient evidence that the accused is the one who took the property
  • Multiple larcenies are really part of a single offense (reduces the number of charges when it is not possible to beat all of them outright)
  • A single larceny is really a series of petit larcenies (keeps the prosecutor from adding the value of multiple petit larcenies together to get a felony)
  • Alibi—my client was somewhere else at the time of the offense which means he couldn’t have committed it
  • Insufficient evidence of prior convictions (reduces third offense petit larceny charges to a misdemeanor)
  • The owner has received the property back or payment for it, and does not wish to pursue criminal charges against my client

Sometimes, if my client can return the property or pay for it, I can negotiate a plea deal to reduce the charge and/or punishment. In some cases, we may be able to convince the prosecutor to drop the charges altogether, especially if my client has a clean record and is willing to do some community service.