shoplifting-nail-polish-purseWhether it’s a pack of gum or a brand-new laptop, shoplifting in Virginia is a serious offense. It can lead to fines and jail time. Stealing something small may seem like a petty crime, but a sound shoplifting defense strategy is vital. A permanent criminal record can irreversibly impact the rest of your life. Virginia criminal defense attorney James E. Short is ready to fight on your behalf for the best resolution possible. 

About Virginia Shoplifting Laws

The Commonwealth of Virginia does not have specific shoplifting laws. Shoplifting, also known as retail theft, is a form of larceny. Larceny refers to the wrongful or fraudulent taking of items belonging to someone else without their consent. In other words, the accused takes it with the intent to deprive the owner of the item permanently.

In the context of shoplifting, Virginia Code § 18.2-103 states it is unlawful to:

  • Take possession of merchandise of any store
  • Hide merchandise 
  • Change the price tag of an item
  • Transfer a product from one package to another
  • Help anyone else doing any of the above

It is important to note that shoplifting doesn’t only include the outright theft of merchandise. Fraudulently depriving the owner of an item’s full value is still larceny. Taking the price tag from a cheaper item and placing it on a more expensive item falls under the same shoplifting laws. The accused doesn’t even need to leave the store. Instead, the prosecution must prove the intent to leave the store with the stolen merchandise. 

Larceny Charges for Shoplifting in Virginia

Virginia Code Section 18.2-103 outlines two types of larceny based on the value of goods. 

  • Petit larceny (petty larceny) is for stealing up to $1,000 in goods
  • Grand larceny is for stealing over $1,000 in goods or any firearm, regardless of value

If the theft involves violence or the threat of violence, the charge can be escalated to robbery. Robbery is a felony in Virginia, and the potential sentence may include life in prison.

Shop Owners Can Detain Shoplifters

If loss prevention officers catch someone shoplifting, they can detain them temporarily. According to Virginia Code § 18.2-105.1, a merchant or the merchant’s employee must have probable cause to believe the person was shoplifting. They may keep suspects for up to an hour until police arrive. 

Penalties for Shoplifting in Virginia

Virginia’s shoplifting penalties depend on the value of the goods that were allegedly stolen. Repeat offenders often face stiffer penalties than first-time offenders. Jail time is likely. 

Petit (Petty) Larceny Charges

Stealing goods with a value under $1,000 is petit larceny. Virginia Code § 18.2-96 defines petty larceny as a Class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, the crime is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. 

Grand Larceny Charges

Stealing goods valued over $1,000 or a firearm of any value is grand larceny. Virginia Code § 18.2-95 defines grand larceny as an unclassified felony. It is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. As a felony, a grand larceny charge stays on your permanent criminal record. This can affect employment and immigration opportunities. Non-citizens may be deported. 

Potential Lawsuits

In addition to criminal charges, someone convicted of shoplifting may also face civil lawsuits. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-104.1, the store owner may seek damages. This includes recovering the value of the stolen goods and costs incurred in prosecuting the individual up to $250.

Possible Defenses Against Shoplifting Charges

Whether developing a juvenile criminal defense or a strategy for an adult accused of shoplifting, James Short will leave no stone unturned. Several effective shoplifting defenses may be possible. 

Mistaken Identity

The loss prevention officer may have mistaken the accused for someone else they thought they saw shoplifting. It is up to the Commonwealth to review evidence to prove the identity of the accused beyond all reasonable doubt. 

Mistaken Facts 

There could be a misunderstanding. The accused may have walked into the store with an identical item. The store owner might’ve thought they stole it. In this case, the facts of the case were mistaken, relating to the rightful claim of ownership. 

Mistaken Consent or Intent

The accused may have believed they had the store owner’s consent to take an item when they did not. For example, a customer might take a child seat to try installing it in their car. Loss prevention officers may misinterpret this as shoplifting when the customer intends to return it. 

Don’t Take These Charges Lightly

Before speaking with the police, hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Attorney James Short can explain your options for a successful shoplifting defense. Together, you can challenge the charges and work toward the best resolution possible in your case. 

Remember that anything you say can used against you in court. James Short will scrutinize the evidence against you and formulate the strongest defense strategy possible. If you are guilty of theft, Mr. Short may negotiate for a more favorable plea agreement or even a case dismissal.