Myths About Shoplifting
The crime of “shoplifting” in Virginia is technically called “larceny.” There are two main classes of larceny – “grand” and “petit.” The only difference between the two is the amount of money alleged to be stolen. If the stolen property is worth $500 (on July 1, 2020 a new law in Virginia raises this threshold to $1000) or more, the crime is Grand Larceny, a felony. If the value is less than this, the crime is Petit Larceny, a misdemeanor. The maximum punishment for Grand Larceny is – you’d better sit down – 20 years in prison. There is no mandatory minimum sentence. The maximum punishment for Petit Larceny is one year and a $2,500 fine. Despite, the fact that Virginia calls “shoplifting” “larceny,” this article will use the more colloquial term “shoplifting.”
Here are some common myths about shoplifting from a shoplifting lawyer, Fairfax VA:
MYTH ONE: Shoplifting is Not that Big of a Deal.
While it is true that few people convicted of shoplifting get much (if any) jail time, some do. Some judges will routinely impose a short jail sentence to reinforce the seriousness of the crime. Most don’t. In fact, the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines recommend probation-only for a single count of Grand Larceny committed by one with no prior criminal record. However, the Guidelines don’t distinguish cases based on the value of the item stolen. So, under the Guidelines, the recommended punishment would be the same if someone stole a $201 ($1000 after July 1, 2020) pair of jeans or a $1,000,000 piece of jewelry. Unsurprisingly, many judges do make a distinction.
Jail, is not the only consideration, though. Any shoplifting lawyer, Fairfax VA will point to collateral consequences of a shoplifting conviction. These include:
- A loss of credibility in court in the future. Shoplifting is classified as “crime of moral turpitude” and can be used to argue that one convicted of this crime is not trustworthy. So, assume a person is convicted of shoplifting and five years later is in an automobile accident where he and the other driver are each claiming the other was at fault. Even though shoplifting had nothing to do with the accident, the person convicted of shoplifting is automatically not as credible as the other driver who has no conviction. In a close case, this could tip the balance.
- A lifelong reputational disability. Even if one never must be in court, one convicted of shoplifting will have the conviction on his record forever. There is no expungement procedure under current Virginia law that would erase a shoplifting conviction from one’s criminal record.
- Immigration Consequences. A conviction could carry adverse immigration actions, such as deportation, exclusion, or citizenship bans now or in the future.
MYTH TWO: If Caught in the Act of Shoplifting there is No Way to Avoid a Conviction.
There are many defenses to larceny and a shoplifting lawyer, Fairfax, VA will explore them with clients. As a factual matter, the prosecutor must prove that one stole property, with the intent to steal it, and that the item had value. Prosecutors sometimes have difficulty proving value. While intent can be inferred by one’s actions, sometimes it requires speculation too far for a judge to permit.
Even if there are no defenses, there are alternatives to a conviction.
- A prosecutor could be persuaded to reduce a felony Grand Larceny charge down to a misdemeanor Petit Larceny charge based on mitigating circumstances.
- A prosecutor could be persuaded to change the charge from a larceny charge to a different misdemeanor that does not involve “moral turpitude,” such as Trespassing.
- Some courts (like Fairfax, VA) have “first offender” programs that can result in a dismissal of the shoplifting charge entirely. (However, discuss with your shoplifting attorney, Fairfax VA the pros and cons of this program. Dismissals through it are not “expungeable” and will be a permanent item on a criminal record).
Shoplifting attorneys, Fairfax VA can be great myth-busters! Choose a good one.