Written by attorney Brenton Daniel Vincenzes

Virginia Larceny Penalties and Definitions: Grand vs. Petit

Grand Larceny vs. Petit Larceny

by Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney, Brenton D. Vincenzes

Part 1: Introduction: Larceny on the Rise?

Part 2: "Larceny" Explained in Simple Terms

Part 3: Petit Larceny Penalties

Part 4: Grand Larceny Penalties

Part 5: Why does "Value" Matter?

Part 6: Case Examples (Insufficient Evidence to Convict)

Part 7: Case Examples (Sufficient Evidence to Convict)

1. Introduction: Larceny on the rise?

As far as a blemish on one's criminal record is concerned, it does not matter whether the charge is for petit larceny or grand larceny, because both are criminal offenses: either charge will remain on an adult record forever. If any type of guilty verdict is rendered, then expungement will be nearly impossible.

According to recent data released by the Department of Justice, 12,825,510 people reported that they were a victim of a property crime in 2011. In 2002, that figure was higher, at 14 million. In 2010, the numbers declined to just 11.6 million.

But note: the above figures only account for property theft not including auto theft or household burglary. Nor do these numbers include robbery: larceny is not considered to be a violent crime, because when larceny is accompanied by force, threats, or intimidation, then it is charged as robbery (a crime against a person, not solely property).

2.Larceny Defined in Simple Terms

Larceny means:

  • Taking and "carrying away" of property belonging to someone else;
  • Without the true owner’s consent; and,
  • The intent is not to “borrow," but rather to “permanently deprive" the owner of possession.

The statutes from The Code of Virginia dealing with larceny include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • 18.2-95
  • 18.2-96

The larceny charge may include the main Code section (likely one of the two listed above), as well as another notation, such as:

  • “Petit Larceny <$5 From a Person (pick pocket)
  • “Petit Larceny“<200 Not from a Person
  • “Grand Larceny" $5+ From a Person
  • “Grand Larceny" $200+ Not from a Person
  • “Grand Larceny" Auto Theft

The crime of petit larceny refers to instances involving:

  • property valued at less than $200 and not taken from a person; or
  • property valued at less than $5 and taken from a person.

The crime of grand larceny refers to instances involving:

  • property valued at $200 or more, and not taken from a person; or
  • property valued at $5 or more, and taken from a person.

If the charge is grand larceny, then it is considered a felony.

3. Petit Larceny Penalties

Petit larceny is a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Virginia. Petit larceny is the less serious larceny offense, but is still considered to be the most serious type of misdemeanor in Virginia. As a Class 1 misdemeanor, the judge is authorized to sentence a convicted person to up to:

  • a year in jail,
  • assess a $2,500 fine,
  • or both.

A larceny "attempt" is punishable just the same. This is true for petit and grand larceny.

4. Grand Larceny Penalties

Grand larceny is covered by a separate statute,but the same definition of larceny is applicable (see Part 2 of this guide).

Grand larceny is punishable by:

  • time in a correctional facility for at least one year, but not more than 20 years; and (but not limited to)
  • a substantial fine.

In the jury or court’s discretion trying the case, it may sentence the defendant to

  • confinement for at least 12 months in jail, or
  • fines up to $2,500, or
  • both.

A lawyer should be consulted by someone faced with either grand or petit larceny: a legal professional with criminal defense experience can explain to you the difference between:

  • authorized sentencing guidelines and
  • "discretionary" sentencing guidelines.

5. Why does "Value" Matter, and When?

“Value" is an important aspect to the crime of larceny. To be charged with petit larceny, the items involved must have some value. As long as the items have some value, then the Commonwealth Attorney (prosecution) need not prove the precise value.

For a grand larceny conviction, however, the Commonwealth must offer proof of the value:

  • $200 or more if not taken from a person; or,
  • $5 or more if taken from a person.

In cases involving goods valued around the $200 threshold (or $5, if taken from a person), many people often ask, "who or what determines the value?" Before we cover this question, have a look at what the Code of Virginia says with regards to instances when:

  • a grand larceny charge is brought, but the value turns out to be less than the required amount; and
  • a petit larceny charge is brought, but the value turns out to be more than the required amount.

First, in the case of a grand larceny charge, if it turns out that the value is actually less than $200 (for an item taken not from a person), then the law provides:

“[T]he jury may find the accused guilty of petit larceny."

Second, if the charge is petit larceny, as opposed to grand larceny, then another Code section provides:

“[T]he jury may find the accused guilty; and upon a conviction . . . the accused shall be sentenced for petit larceny."

Who can prove the value?

  • The owner of the property can offer testimony; and/or
  • A non-owner with knowledge.

This may come as a surprise, but opinion testimony of a non-expert who does not own the property can still offer admissible testimony as to the property value...but only if:

  • the person has adequate knowledge of the value; or,
  • has had a substantial opportunity for forming an unbiased opinion.

6. Real Case Illustrations: Sufficient Evidence to Convict

Case 1

Witnesses / victims testified in court that the items found in the defendant’s vehicle were the same items they noticed and reported stolen. On the same day that the items were reported stolen, they were found in the defendant’s vehicle.

Case 2

A neighbor heard something coming from the victim’s house, and then saw the defendant leaving the scene. The neighbor noticed a cord protruding from the defendant’s pants, presumably coming out of his pocket. When the defendant realized he was being watched by the neighbor, he let out a slur of curse words. At the same trial, the defendant gave a conflicting account as to his whereabouts that evening. Despite all of the evidence in this case being circumstantial, it was enough to convict.

Case 3

A man entered a store and removed two containers of ointment from their display boxes on the shelf. He then put the two containers in his pockets, but did not leave the store. He was properly convicted, according to the court, because he did put the items in his pocket, and also made a statement, he was being “stupid." The court found this enough to indicate the presence of criminal intent.

7. Real Case Illustrations: Insufficient Evidence to Convict

Case 1

There was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a case where the evidence placed the accused in the same area where the theft took place, as well as the general areas where the items stolen were found…but even together, it created only a mere suspicion and not sufficient evidence to convict.

Case 2

A case coming down to the “value" of the tools for a grand larceny conviction: a witness testified that the tools in question were purchased in 1986 or 1987 and that she did not know the price, and the estimated replacement cost was $540. But the witness was not the owner of the tools, and she did not testify what effects wear and tear would have on the value of the tools…if any. … The estimation did not properly establish the current value of the stolen goods, reflecting effects of wear and tear. Thus, the evidence was not sufficient to prove the value of the tools was greater than $200.

Case 3

The intent to “permanently deprive" the owner is necessary for a larceny conviction. In one case, the defendant borrowed a tool and never asserted his own right to ownership, and also always stated he intended to return the tool. When he could not find the drill (for reasons not clear), he paid the owner for the price of the drill. This evidence was not sufficient to support a larceny charge.

Please Remember:

If you have been charged with any criminal offense, or if you are not sure whether your offense is civil, criminal, or a mere infraction, please call one of a local Virginia or Fairfax criminal lawyer, or our Fairfax criminal defense attorney. Brenton D. Vincenzes helps advocate for those accused of committing crimes and traffic violations in Northern Virginia, and would be happy to talk to you about your case at no cost, and with no-obligation.

Disclaimer:Nothing contained in this guide constitutes legal advice. It is information, and as such, is for informational purposes only. No attorney-client relationship exists by way of reading this guide, and nothing herein should be relied upon. Instead, speak to a qualified legal professional who practices criminal law in the jurisdiction where your case is to be heard.

Additional resources provided by the author

The Code of Virginia – Larceny and Larceny Related 18.2-95 Grand larceny defined; how punished. 18.2-96 Petit larceny defined; how punished. 18.2-27. Attempts to commit misdemeanors; how punished. 19.2-8. Limitation of prosecutions. 19.2-289. Conviction of petit larceny. 19.2-290. Conviction of petit larceny though thing stolen worth more than $200. Case Law Bright v. Commonwealth, 4 Va. App. 248, 356 S.E.2d 443 (1987). Evans v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 292, 308 S.E.2d 126 (1983). Henderson v. Commonwealth, 215 Va. 811, 213 S.E.2d 782 (1975). Davis v. Commonwealth, 14 Va. App. 709, 419 S.E.2d 285 (1992). Humphreys v. Commonwealth, No. 1324-95-4 (Ct. of Appeals Feb. 11, 1997). Wright v. Commonwealth, 2 Va. App. 743, 348 S.E.2d 9 (1986). Owen v. Commonwealth, No. 1495-95-2 (Ct. of Appeals May 28, 1996). Harris v. Commonwealth, 38 Va. App. 680 568, S.E.2d 385, (2002). Rev’d on other grounds. Tucker v. Commonwealth, no. 1288-02-2, 2003 Va. App. LEXIS 347 (ct. of Appeals June 17, 2003). Dance v. Commonwealth, No. 3085-02-2 2003 Va. App. LEXIS 393 (Ct. of Appeals July 8, 2003). Duncan v. Commonwealth, 218 Va. 545, 238 S.E.2d 807 (1977). Huddleston v. Commonwealth, No. 2335-98-3 (Ct. of Appeals Oct. 19, 1999). Tarpley v. Commonwealth, 261 Va. 251 542 S.E.2d 761, 2001 Va. LEXIS 31 (2001). Camden v. Commonwealth, No. 2951-96-3 (Ct. of Appeals Dec. 16, 1997).

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