In daily conversation, “shoplifting” refers to the act of stealing goods from a store. While this crime might sound simple at first, the legal reality is a bit more complicated.
Under Virginia law, shoplifting counts as an act of larceny, and the severity of the offense depends on the value of the stolen goods.
Additionally, things you might not consider to be shoplifting may still count as larceny according to the law.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly what shoplifting is in Virginia. Additionally, we’ll cover how Virginia courts deal with shoplifters.
How Does the Virginia Code Define Shoplifting?
Most acts of shoplifting in the Commonwealth are covered under Virginia Code § 18.2-103.
This law criminalizes multiple acts which defraud business owners of the value of their products.
Specifically, this code section makes it illegal to:
- Willfully conceal or take possession of goods without purchasing them.
- Alter the price tags on store goods, or transfer them from one container to another in a way which alters their price.
- Counsel, assist, aid, or abet any other person who performs one of the above acts.
There are three things to note in this definition.
The first is that shoplifting has to be intentional.
For this reason, accidentally walking out of a store with an item is not shoplifting, though you still need to return it once you find out.
Second, in the eyes of the law, acts of fraud which result in a loss of value for the store are equivalent to shoplifting.
While swapping the price tags on two items might not seem like a big deal, it’s still punishable by a hefty fine and possibly even jail time.
The same goes for helping another person shoplift.
Finally, as specifically noted at the end of this code section:
“The willful concealment of goods or merchandise of any store…while still on the premises thereof, shall be prima facie evidence of an intent to convert and defraud the owner thereof of the value of the goods or merchandise.”Virginia Code § 18.2-103
Put another way, willfully concealing goods while still in the store (or parking lot) also counts as shoplifting.
Further, if you are caught concealing goods, the act of concealment itself is enough to prove that you were shoplifting, regardless of any other circumstances.
How Does Virginia Punish Shoplifting?
In Virginia, the exact charge for an act of shoplifting depends on the value of the stolen goods.
If the goods were worth less than $500 and more than $5, the offense counts as petty larceny (also called “petit larceny”).
If the goods are worth $500 or more, or if the stolen item is a firearm, the charge is grand larceny.
While “petty larceny” might not sound like a serious charge, it can have incredible severe consequences. That’s because petty larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia.
If convicted, you’ll face a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 12 months in jail. In addition, keep in mind that misdemeanors go on your criminal record.
In Virginia, it is virtually impossible to get rid of a criminal record after pleading guilty to a crime.
Having a criminal record can have significant collateral consequences moving forward, such as limited access to housing and certain jobs.
In Virginia, grand larceny is a felony offense. If you’re convicted of grand larceny, you will face several life-altering penalties.
The first is that the punishment for grand larceny is much more severe than the punishment for petty larceny.
Specifically, you’ll face a fine of up to $2,500 and a prison sentence of between 12 months and 20 years, or in the discretion of the court, a jail sentence of up to 12 months.
In addition, felons permanently lose several rights, such as the right to vote and own firearms.
Furthermore, Virginia bars felons from working in several different industries.
This is in addition to how hard it often is for convicted felons to find employment in the first place.
In addition to the penalties assigned by the state, the owner of any stolen goods may also choose to sue you in small claims court.
In Virginia, the plaintiff’s lawyers are allowed to use the results of a criminal judgment as evidence in civil court.
This means that a person found guilty of shoplifting will likely end up paying civil damages as well.
Specifically, the Code notes that:
“Any person who has been convicted of [shoplifting] shall be civilly liable to the owner for the retail value of any goods and merchandise…not recovered by the owner, and for all costs incurred in prosecuting such person…provided, however, the total amount of allowable costs granted hereunder shall not exceed $250, excluding the retail value of the goods and merchandise.”Virginia Code § 18.2-104.1
Essentially, this law means that the business can sue you for (1) the total cost of the lost merchandise, and (2) up to $250 in legal fees related to the civil suit.
However, part of the criminal sentence will likely include the restitution of the total value taken.
Therefore, you’ll likely not face a civil suit if the amount the court ordered covers the full amount lost.
Other Shoplifting Laws and Procedures
There are a few other things you should know if you’re convicted of shoplifting in the Commonwealth.
Detention of a Suspected Shoplifter
In Virginia, a merchant, agent, or employee of the merchant who has probable cause to believe that a person has shoplifted may detain that person for up to one hour, pending the arrival of a law-enforcement officer.
Purchasing/Selling Stolen Goods in Virginia
In Virginia, purchasing and selling stolen goods is also illegal, provided the Commonwealth can prove you did so knowingly.
For this reason, shoplifting more than one of any particular item is a serious crime, while the act of purchasing stolen goods carries the same penalties as stealing those goods in the first place.
Finally, if you do not have a significant criminal history, you may be eligible for pre-trial diversion.
If the judge decides you are eligible for pre-trial diversion, you will be placed under probation for six months to a year.
During this time, you will be required to avoid further encounters with the law.
In addition, you may have to participate in community service, and likely attend a course regarding shoplifting. If you complete your probation successfully, the judge will dismiss the charges.
People often think of shoplifting as a petty crime, but in the eyes of the law it’s anything but. Shoplifting charges are a big deal in Virginia, and they merit a serious solution.
If you’ve been charged with shoplifting, contact a lawyer right away. Failing to do so could have significant consequences, possibly including jail time.