In Virginia, the term “larceny” refers to a wide array of crimes ranging from basic shoplifting to grand theft auto.
Depending on the severity of the crime, larceny charges can result in significant fines and jail time, among other related penalties.
However, these penalties may be much greater if you fail to take the charges seriously.
In this article, we’ll talk about the six most common mistakes that people make when facing larceny charges in Virginia.
Keep in mind, though, that the Commonwealth’s larceny laws can result in different penalties depending on the actual crime you’re charged with.
Always consult with an attorney if you’re arrested for a crime such as larceny.
Mistake 1: Failing to Contact a Lawyer
You should get in touch with legal counsel immediately after being arrested for a criminal charge such as larceny.
Even petty larceny is a serious crime in Virginia, and can result in penalties such as large fines and even, in some cases, incarceration.
Instead of risking jail time by representing yourself, you should get in touch with an experienced Virginia lawyer.
A good lawyer will examine the specific circumstances of your case before recommending a course of action.
In many cases, if there is enough evidence to convict you of the offense charged, your lawyer will try to get the best possible plea bargain in your case.
In others, and especially if the attorney feels you have a strong defense, you may be able to fight the charges against you.
However, it’s always in your best interests to at least speak with a criminal defense attorney about your case.
Even in situations where you feel that you can resolve the problem yourself, an attorney can often provide practical guidance about what you should expect, and may educate you about the common pitfalls that you should look out for in court.
Mistake 2: Incriminating Yourself
The most common mistake that people charged with larceny make is talking to the police without an attorney present.
Often, people assume that the police will drop the charges if they simply explain the situation.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
Instead, you will greatly increase the chance of a guilty verdict if you speak with the police without an attorney.
Remember, just about anything you say to the police can and will be used against you in court.
This includes testimony that you give before your arrest, during the arrest, in the back of the police car, and at the station.
Basically, it is never in your best interest to talk to the police about your case.
Instead, if the police attempt to question you, calmly provide your name and ID and state that you’d like to speak with an attorney.
Past that, you have every right to politely refuse any police questioning.
Mistake 3: Talking About Your Case
The only person you should talk to about your case is your lawyer.
This includes both verbal conversations and, even more so, posting about it on social media.
Nowadays, prosecutors will usually check the social media profiles of those they charge with crimes.
Because of this, anything you post on social media can become evidence in your case.
Even talking to friends and family can be dangerous.
If a prosecutor finds out that you spoke about your case with someone other than your attorney, they may choose to subpoena that individual and have them testify at your trial.
Such an event will only add an extra, unnecessary level of complexity to your case.
Except for questions such as “do you know an attorney you can trust,” you should largely avoid discussing your case with anyone who isn’t representing you.
Finally, you should never attempt to contact witnesses in your case.
This is a bad idea for a wide variety of reasons.
However, in general, contacting witnesses may increase the chance of a guilty verdict or another undesirable outcome, such as further charges for witness tampering.
Likewise, you should decline to speak to them if they reach out to you.
Mistake 4: Withholding Information from Your Lawyer
On the other hand, you should always talk about the full details of your case with your lawyer.
Even a small or otherwise embarrassing detail may have a profound impact on your case.
Only an attorney who has reviewed all of the facts of your case can tell you whether or not a particular detail is important.
Leaving out details could negatively impact your chances in court.
Remember that any information you give to your lawyer falls under attorney-client privilege.
A prosecutor cannot make your lawyer testify against you, and your lawyer legally cannot reveal the information that you give them to anyone without your consent.
By providing your attorney with all the details, you can help ensure a solid defense in your case.
Mistake 5: Not Understanding Your Charges
Virginia’s larceny laws can be a little hard to understand at first glance.
For example, the theft of more than $5 from another’s person (such as pickpocketing or mugging) is grand larceny in Virginia.
However, stealing the same item from a store is only shoplifting, a minor form of petty larceny.
Despite seeming quite similar, the penalties for these two charges vary considerably.
In fact, grand larceny charges are often punished with a minimum of one year in prison.
Meanwhile, judges often instead punish petty larceny cases with, at most, a few days or weeks in jail and/or (relatively) small fines.
For this reason, it is critically important to understand the exact charges in your case.
Often, your defense will rest on the facts and laws surrounding each individual level of larceny.
For this reason, you’ll want to have a thorough discussion with your attorney about the exact charges (and penalties) you’re facing in your case.
Mistake 6: Indicating Intent to Sell
If a prosecutor can prove that you intended to sell the stolen goods, you could face significantly harsher penalties.
That’s because larceny with the intent to sell is a separate, equally severe charge that can lead to additional fines and jail time on top of the original larceny charges.
Buying stolen goods is also a crime under this law, and carries similar penalties.
There are two general ways for a prosecutor to prove an intent to sell.
First, they could simply use your own admission of guilt should you slip up when talking to the police.
Second, as stated in the Virginia Code:
“The larceny of more than one item of the same product is prima facie evidence of intent to sell or intent to distribute for sale.”Virginia Code § 18.2-108.01
Effectively, this statement means that stealing more than one item of the same product is often sufficient to prove intent to sell by itself, and it becomes your burden to prove otherwise.
Put another way, indicating intent to sell in either of these scenarios will greatly decrease your chances of receiving a favorable outcome.
At best, indicating intent to sell will force you and your attorney to provide an extra level of defense to an already complicated legal matter.
For this reason, you should take steps to either (1) avoid talking to the police in the first place, or (2) prepare a solid defense with your attorney to rebut the accusations.
A larceny charge is a big deal, but it doesn’t have to ruin your life.
To better understand your particular charges, how serious they are, and how you should handle your case, you should contact a lawyer immediately.
A good Virginia lawyer can provide the personalized legal advice and representation you need to get the best possible outcome in your larceny case.