Law Talk Episode 22: Virginia Larceny Laws

In today's episode of Law Talk we formally introduce Jennifer and Jessica, the two new attorneys at our firm! We'll also go over Virginia's larceny laws.

Andrew: All right, and we are alive. It is Wednesday, it is slightly after 11, but that’s just due to getting the audio equipment to work a little bit properly for three people because we had two new friends to officially introduce today. So you want us to just sort of introduce yourselves, what you do, like where you went to college? I don’t know, just like icebreakers, fun stuff.

Jessica: Do you wanna go first?

Jennifer: Sure. My name is Jennifer. I just joined the firm and Jessica and I will be doing criminal defense here. We recently graduated from law school. I went to William and Mary and I’m waiting for my bar results. So hopefully definitely that will be positive and I went to college in Florida.

Andrew: Okay, cool.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Jessica: And I’m Jessica I went to University of Richmond here in Richmond. I’m a Virginia native, lived here my whole life. I grew up in Hampton roads and moved here about four or five years ago. Also just graduated waiting on bar results, so we’re really excited to be here.

Andrew: Yeah. And I know it’s exciting, especially on my end because we have two new people to write our articles, do fun video stuff with.

Jessica: Do more work.

Andrew: Yeah. I’m just going to throw work at you guys. It will be so much fun. Yeah. So we’ve been publishing a couple of criminal articles over the last week or two, which you guys have been helping a lot on. But today specifically we’re going to talk about one subject really sort of narrow in on one part of criminal law that we’re thinking of doing over the next couple of months basically. And that is larceny, that is stealing stuff pick pocketing all that fun stuff.

Jessica: Fun stuff.

Andrew: So you just want to sort of give a brief overview of what larceny is because it’s not just like I don’t even know, breaking into a house with a ski mask and stealing stuff. There’s a broad coverage of theft charges and that kind of stuff. And really either of you can really sort of dig really into it so.

Jennifer: Sure. We can just collaborate I guess?

Andrew: Yeah.

Jennifer: So Larceny is essentially, the definition is like taking away. It’s the taking and carrying away of an object or of money or of animals, oddly enough and with the intent to deprive the person that you took it from that object, and there are different types of larceny. There’s grand larceny, and then within grand larceny there’s different definitions, right.

Jessica: Yeah. And something that an important distinction that you mentioned, is that the intent to permanently deprive someone. So if I borrowed $20 from you and I never paid her back, that’s not larceny. That’s just-

Andrew: That’s not a crime. That’s a civil kind of matter.

Jennifer: Right.

Jessica: Right, yes, but so if I took the $20 out of her wallet and never intended to pay her back, that would be larceny.

Andrew: So do you need to like as defense attorneys or does the prosecution really need to like prove that intent or?

Jessica: Yeah.

Andrew: That’s interesting.

Jessica: And in any criminal case there is the presumption of innocence, right? That’s kind of the basis of our legal system. So if you’re accused of stealing something from a store, the burden’s on the government to prove that you meant to steal it. It wasn’t just, you accidentally walked out the door with it.

Jennifer: Right. And with shoplifting specifically, it’s not just that you intended to do that, but also the fair market value of the item. That’s something that the government has to prove and not many people know this, they just think that, “Oh, they saw me take it.” But actually part of the elements of the government has to prove is the actual fair market value to make sure that it falls, that, that whatever object was taken actually falls within the charge or whether it’s grand larceny or petty larceny, whatever it is, they have to actually prove the fair market value. Could be like a great defense too. Because if the government can’t do that, then that probably means that we won so.

Andrew: Yeah, so we keep talking about sort of like grand larceny and petty larceny. And this is something that’s very much like per state, it’s going to have a specific number somewhere in the code. That’s if it’s above this number, it’s grand. If it’s blows number, it’s petty. Oh, we forgot to press the record button, hopefully, whatever. Anyway, so can you sort of chat about this sort of like cut off because I know they changed it recently for Virginia specifically, where it went from 200 to 500? So just sort of talk about how that sort of works.

Jennifer: And this is something that is, especially as defense attorneys we get really excited about.

Jessica: Yeah.

Jennifer: Virginia. The cutoff is one of the lowest in the countries in Virginia the cutoff used to be $200 was petty larceny and anything above that was, or I’m sorry, $200 and above was grand larceny. Anything below that was petty larceny.

Jessica: And that’s just a very low threshold and that would get people just very bad criminal records just because of how low the threshold was.

Andrew: Yeah.

Jessica: And just for point of reference, that number hasn’t been changed since the law was instituted in 1980. So think about how much inflation has changed since. I think that that was before any of us were born. So it was raised in just a live, maybe this year?

Andrew: Yeah.

Jennifer: It took effect in July 1st of this year.

Jessica: To $500, which is still one of the lowest in the country.

Andrew: But it’s better.

Jessica: It’s much better. Yes.

Andrew: It’s the difference between a textbook and like, I don’t know, a dog.

Jennifer: Right. Exactly.

Jessica: Absolutely. So, and it can be the difference between having a felony on your record permanently or just having a petty charge. So it makes a big difference to people who are accused of property crimes, which is incidentally one of the most common crimes in the city of Richmond. So it has a huge impact here, especially in Richmond.

Andrew: And this is for like, for lack of a better term, nonviolent larceny though. So for example, if you mug someone, the number is much lower.

Jessica: Well, so if you mug someone that’s robbery. So that’s an entirely different crime, but it makes stealing from someone is, would be I guess complex-

Andrew: Or compound plus.

Jessica: Compound, yeah.

Jennifer: That’s what they call it, yeah compound larceny, yeah.

Andrew: Because it’s like multiple different wrong things in one.

Jennifer: Right.

Jessica: But think of that more as pick pocketing. That would just be taking something out of someone’s purse or taking something out of their pocket, not taking a gun or using force to steal from them so that’s an entirely different crime.

Andrew: Yeah. But I know it’s often lumped in with larceny things just when people think about it, it’s still stealing, it’s just under a different sort of like-

Jennifer: Right, right. And if you just happen to not use a weapon, then maybe you could just get added charges like assault or battery and all that. So those are just different charges that usually get lumped in, like you said.

Andrew: Okay. So you mentioned stealing animals earlier and so in Virginia specifically, there’s a couple specific thing. So like if you steal a firearm or if you still … Well animals are considered property, but there’s a bunch of sort of specific cases you guys maybe want to expand on how the law sort of differs depending on what happens?

Jessica: Virginia’s interesting with the guns because stealing a gun is always grand larceny. [crosstalk 00:07:52] It doesn’t matter the value of it, it’s always going to be grand larceny.

Jennifer: Right. And when it comes to animals, they’re very specific, they’re very specific as to the animals and like as to … So if you’re seeling a dog or a horse or a mule among other animals that are listed in the code, then that would be larceny and that would qualify as a felony actually. And then if you’re stealing other types of animals, like a lamb or a sheep, then that’s also larceny, but it’s also a felony. It’s just a different type of felony. I believe it’s the classics felony or class five.

Jessica: Different levels of penalties associated with it.

Jennifer: Exactly. But Virginia is just very specific in regards to the list of animals that would fall under that larceny.

Jessica: There’s a lot of very specific laws regarding animals in-

Jennifer: It is.

Jessica: There are.

Andrew: Really, really specific, yeah.

Jessica: Because agricultural history or something.

Andrew: That has to be, yeah.

Jennifer: It has to be. Right, right.

Andrew: It probably comes from like, what, what is it called, common law or whatever? Where it’s just been a thing for so long. They’re finally just put it in the code.

Jennifer: Yes.

Jessica: Absolutely.

Jennifer: And it’s just something that was very valued back in the day because that was the source of revenue. So we’ve stuck with it.

Andrew: Yeah.

Jessica: And you wouldn’t think that the theft of livestock would be that common. I was surprised to learn that apparently there wasn’t successful, someone stole cattle recently in the Richmond area. I think the one that’s more common though is stealing dogs. Stealing pets, especially small dogs, it’s easy to just take someone’s poodle out of the backyard.

Jennifer: And it’s better because for certain breeds, like pit bulls, those sell for a very high price. So that’s why usually you have so much theft have animals which is really sad.

Andrew: Usually they’re kind of hard to track as well. Unless you have a microchip in your pet, there’s not exactly a vin number on the dog’s tail or something.

Jennifer: Exactly, exactly. And that’s why you should report it immediately to the police and just post flyers, obviously I think that any owner of animals will do that because we are usually consider them part of the family. And it really so sad when someone steals it from you. But those would honestly be the only ways that you could just let the world know, “Hey, I’m looking for this and this is mine and someone has taken it away from me without my permission.”

Jessica: We did have one cool or not cool, but it was a more heartwarming incident in Richmond recently. I don’t know if you guys heard about it, where a car was stolen I think. And the family poodle was in the car. And so the family put out basically this petition into the news saying, please return our poodle. We don’t care about the car. This dog is our beloved family pet. And the dog was returned and so that-

Jennifer: That’s amazing.

Jessica: As an attorney, you’re thinking, okay, well that’s one less charge.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Jessica: This person that stole a car but as a human being you’re thinking well, at least these people … I don’t know if a judge would take that into consideration as a mitigating factor.

Jennifer: But honestly, for us, probably the friends of [inaudible 00:11:03] that would be like, it’s a very nerdy argument, but that’s actually really cool.

Jessica: You return the dog, yeah.

Jennifer: Because then you get to argue about, well, was their intent to take the dog and the car, was it just intent to take the car.

Jessica: That’s a good point.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: That brings up an interesting thing. What happens if, for example, someone steals something and then returns it later, how would that sort of play out for sort of from your perspective? So for example, if I went and, I don’t know, stole … I can’t even think of anything right now. I don’t even know a book or something. Then I read it and I brought it back to the bookstore and I was like, here you go. Would that technically count as larceny or how would that sort of play out?

Jessica: I think there’s two answers to that. I think there’s the argument that you just made. Whereas the defense attorney, you’d say you don’t have any objective proof that I had the intent to permanently steal it.

Andrew: Because I returned it.

Jessica: Because I returned it. But when we learn black letter law, we just took the bar. So I remember this is all very fresh in my mind. A crime is complete when you have the element of intent and you have the act as complete so that the crime is complete when you had the intent to steal the book and then you actually remove the book from wherever it was. So at that moment you can be charged with larceny, but a good defense attorney will probably try to argue-

Jennifer: Yeah, definitely like if you didn’t make any statements or anything that would obviously help the defense attorney because then if you took it, you might’ve known that it was wrong, but you didn’t have the intent at the time to just not return it. So that would be an argument that could be made. Even if in your mind you would think, okay, I’m feeling this, if there is no proof that the government can use against you to show that as far as intent goes, then perhaps like Jessica said, then we can just argue, they returned it. So they clearly didn’t have the intent to permanently deprive the store or the person from this object.

Jessica: That doesn’t mean you should try that.

Jennifer: No, not at all.

Andrew: Do not try it. That is a bad idea.

Jessica: Also you’re going to get caught on camera, if someone sees you doing it, it’s a bad idea, we don’t recommend it.

Jennifer: Yeah and it could be the possibility that Jessica said, the crime is complete and there’s sufficient evidence to find you guilty and then you have a charge, you have a conviction.

Andrew: There’s always a difference between technicalities and the judge still just decided throw [inaudible 00:13:27] you.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Jessica: And judges can smell, for lack of a better term, most judges can smell a mile away. They’re going to be able to tell. And in a lot of stores in Richmond you get banned if you get convicted or if you go to court for stealing something from there. And you don’t get to go back, you’re done, you’re out. So yeah, just avoid that, just don’t do it.

Andrew: Just don’t steal stuff.

Jessica: Right. Just don’t. It’s not nice.

Jennifer: It’s really not.

Andrew: Were you guys here when that one guy stole that tank and was driving around Richmond and stuff like that?

Jennifer: I was not.

Andrew: Well you didn’t hear about this?

Jennifer: No.

Andrew: Oh yeah, this guy basically took, it wasn’t an actual tank. I think it was a personnel carrier from an army base nearby and was just driving it down the streets in Richmond. I’ve always want to go look at that and see what he was actually charged with because there’s a whole number of probably things there.

Jennifer: Wow. Especially if it was a military then that’s different.

Jessica: It’s federal offense immediately.

Andrew: You should go and look it up, the videos are kind of it’s super dangerous, but the videos are-

Jennifer: How sure.

Jessica: We don’t condone crime, but it was kind of one of those events in Richmond that everybody knew about it when it was happening [crosstalk 00:14:39] the tank driving down.

Andrew: It was just so absurd.

Jessica: It wasn’t even going fast. It was just [crosstalk 00:14:47]

Jennifer: Wow. Wow.

Andrew: I just remember like, because we posted a video on the twitter profile here and I was basically like, guys, in case you need a reminder, don’t steel tanks don’t steel automobiles, don’t steal in general, but if you do we can help you guys.

Jennifer: Absolutely.

Jessica: And if you happen to steal though don’t do it on federal property because that [crosstalk 00:15:09]

Jennifer: Penalties are going to be higher so.

Andrew: I know you guys are sort of interested in federal crimes. How does that work? Is there like, not specifically asking if you know the exact code or anything, but what happens if you steal something from a federal building or something like that? Would it go under a different jurisdiction or like?

Jennifer: It would go under the US code rather than under the Virginia code. So that would be probably you would face higher penalties for that. I don’t exactly know the exact penalties. It would depend probably on what you stole, but yeah, avoid that because federal crimes are much, much tougher to just win. But obviously there’s probably defenses just like there is at the state level, but-

Jessica: the only time I think it would be in a different court is if you were actually in the armed forces. So it’s going just be in federal district court which is basically the federal equivalent to our state trial court, unless you’re in the military, in which case they get do whatever they want. They want to charge it in federal court. They can, but if they want to deal with it within the military they can.

Jennifer: Which is usually what they do. And I’ve never practice in military court, but the punishments are different because under their laws so.

Andrew: So that sort of bring us back on track since we sort of [crosstalk 00:16:34] for a little bit. Let’s go back to sort of like Virginia larceny laws. So can you sort of tell me a little bit about the penalties for grand and petite larceny, sort of like how it plays out in the actual court system because we mentioned earlier that it can be either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the situation. So maybe speak a little bit to that. What can someone expect if they’re facing a larceny charge?

Jennifer: Right. Well, it could be for grand larceny, there is certain types of punishments that you can expect such as up to 12 months in the discretion of the judge, right?

Andrew: Yeah.

Jennifer: And then you could have a fine, a monetary fine. You could also have a more jail time from one to 20 years, I believe it is. So yeah, so-

Andrew: It’s a serious thing.

Jennifer: It’s a very serious thing, but again, you could get less jail time, but that would be at the discretion of the judge, they would take into account the facts of your criminal history and all that and that could or could not help you. So it’s definitely a serious crime.

Jessica: That criminal history thing you mentioned is a big deal. If you’ve got a history of doing that, even if it’s just petty larceny charges. They’re not going to go easy on you. So that really does make a difference.

Andrew: Especially after, I think it’s either on the third offense or after it is when they start increasing it significantly for penalties and that sort of stuff.

Jessica: Right.

Andrew: All right. So was there anything else you guys sort of want to chat about, about larceny? Any interesting, more stories we could go into?

Jessica: The only other thing I could think of it there is that, and I don’t really know how much it works, but there’s that exception for special circumstances with punishments, with Larceny. Like you said at the discretion of the judge when there’s [crosstalk 00:18:39] change but I’ve never seen that in action. I don’t know if you have.

Jennifer: No, me either. I don’t think I have. Maybe if it’s your first offense, the judge will go easier on them.

Andrew: Because it’s not a mandatory minimum, there are sentencing guidelines obviously, but yeah.

Jessica: I don’t know if you’ve seen this more, but do judges take into account like the circumstances of the offense more so like if you’re stealing from someone’s grandma versus-

Jennifer: Oh definitely. Definitely, if you’re stealing from a store, generally what you’re hoping for is that the representative from the store doesn’t show up. Because if they don’t, then the government probably can’t prove how much the item was worth and so forth. And it’s a corporate business so it’s not … So like for example, Macy’s or JC Penney’s, stores like that. Those are corporate businesses. And the judge maybe less sympathetic to you if you stole from someone’s grandma or from even your own parents or a friend or someone who put you in a place of trust essentially. So definitely those are things that the government is pretty good at pointing out during the summary of the case. So just make sure that, I mean if you happen to have done it, just try to get an attorney or some advice before you go into the court.

Andrew: And get an attorney early too.

Jennifer: Exactly.

Andrew: So that you can plan defenses.

Jessica: Absolutely. Exactly. So that they can help you prep the best offense in that situation, but just don’t do it. That should be the first part of it.

Andrew: Yeah. But there are options to sort of make your situation better if something like this does happen.

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Like I mentioned at the beginning, the fair market value if you happened to steal from a store. That’s probably one of the biggest things a defense attorney will first look at, let’s see if they can actually prove that the item was worth that.

Andrew: Okay.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Andrew: All right. I think that’s about it for today. Larceny is one of the things we can either go really, really deep into it or just sort of go briefly over it you like we’ve done today. So something else you guys want to sort of say like.

Jennifer: No, I mean if you have any questions or you need help with a case, just reach out to us. Yes.

Andrew: All right, cool. That’s it for this week’s law talk. We’ll see everybody next week 11:00 same time, same place, and have a nice week everybody.

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