Common Theft Charges in Virginia
Virginia theft lawyer Thomas Soldan answers questions about common theft charges in Virginia.
What are the different classifications of burglary, theft, larceny, and other theft-related crimes?
Thomas Soldan: Larceny is something that a criminal defense attorney encounters in various forms on a daily basis, and burglary is one of the most serious forms of that. In Virginia, burglary and robbery are both very serious crimes that originate in common law and are now statutory crimes, as well. There are slight variances between a common-law burglary and a statutory burglary and it depend on the facts and circumstances of the case. A lot of that has to do with whether or not someone entered a dwelling house at night. That’s a statutory burglary. Having that common-law distinction is somewhat unique to Virginia. The distinction also has to do with what, if any, items have been stolen, what the intent was when someone entered the property, and how an item was stolen, for example if it was taken from a person or not. If there was a weapon displayed or used, that can enhance a larceny offense.
What are the most common types of theft crimes that you handle?
Thomas Soldan: The most common theft offense that I handle is larceny that occurs as a result of shoplifting. With shoplifting, it’s usually about the thrill, so the person may not have completely planned it. It is usually not a need-based offense. People will take something that doesn’t belong to them, they will get caught, and it could lead to a variety of legal complications. In today’s economy, the items being shoplifted could very easily be worth over $500, especially if it’s electronics or nice clothes. It’s very easy to break that statutory minimum threshold for it to be a felony offense, and it really cuts across all demographics of age, race, and sex. That is the most common offense, by far.
What factors determine whether a theft crime is considered a misdemeanor or a felony?
Thomas Soldan: Shoplifting can be a felony if the value of the items taken is high enough. If it’s over $500 in value, the person can be charged with a felony. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be convicted of a felony, though. There may be facts or circumstances that their attorney can present to the prosecutor to negotiate, such as the accused’s criminal background, their recidivism, their role in the offense, their mental state at the time of the offense, or their good character and their ability to be rehabilitated. That can all factor into whether or not their case should be resolved as a felony, a misdemeanor, or in another way.
What are the classes of misdemeanor or felony that a theft crime could entail?
Thomas Soldan: Theft crimes are typically class six felonies. There are also a lot of unclassified felonies for larceny and these unclassified felonies can carry penalties of up to 20 years in jail. That can be a terrifying proposition for the finder of fact, who would be responsible for sentencing a person and going to a trial. They are presented with the ability to send someone to jail for anywhere from one year up to 20, and that’s quite a wide range. That is often the case for these unclassified larceny felonies. Virginia has quite a few felonies that are considered “unclassified,” and those unclassified felonies may carry one to five, one to 10, one to 20, or even one to 40 years in prison.
How often do theft crimes occur alongside other crimes, such as assault or a weapons offense?
Thomas Soldan: Often, theft offenses are motivated by something else. Either someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol committing a theft offense to obtain resources to purchase more drugs or alcohol, or there is some other motivation involved. Theft and drugs definitely go hand-in-hand, and one can certainly aggravate the other. When someone is charged with multiple offenses, it can be used as mitigation, but in other cases, it’s an aggravation, especially with offenses that occur with weapons. Whether it is a gun, the threat of a gun, or another weapon, those are aggravating factors. It can be offensive to prosecution and how they view the crime, because that’s how society views crimes involving stolen property and weapons. If drugs are involved, it may be that a person has a serious addiction that needs treatment and their theft offense is a last resort. In those types of scenarios, it’s always helpful to have an attorney get involved to explain that side of things to law enforcement or the prosecutor. They can help the accused get into programs and get the treatment they need to combat the underlying cause of their addiction, and, hopefully, help them to realize that they don’t need to commit other offenses.