Virginia finally raises its grand larceny threshold after nearly 40 years

After 40 years, Virginia has finally raised its minimum threshold at which theft is considered grand larceny.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, grand larceny is a very serious felony offense that can carry up to 20 years in a state penitentiary and result in the loss of a number of valuable civil rights including the loss of the right to vote and to legally possess firearms. With this in mind, most people are generally surprised to hear how low the monetary threshold for a grand larceny charge has been in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As the Staunton News Leader reports, at just $200.00, Virginia (along with New Jersey) has long had the lowest threshold for grand larceny in the country. However, thanks to a recent amendment to the law that took effect on July 1, 2018, the Commonwealth has finally left that dubious distinction behind and brought its grand larceny threshold more into line with rest of the country.

Difference between petty and grand larceny

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, grand larceny is considered a felony offense whereas petty larceny is categorized as a misdemeanor. While the elements of the two charges are virtually identical, it is the value of the property stolen that controls whether the offense is deemed grand or petit larceny in Virginia. Moreover, the different consequences that can result from a conviction for a felony grand larceny or a misdemeanor petit larceny are extreme. Under Virginia law, a conviction for a misdemeanor does not carry any loss of civil rights and is punishable by no more than 12 months in jail. As stated previously, the consequences that can stem from a conviction for a felony grand larceny are dire.

With so much at stake, the low monetary threshold that existed for a grand larceny charge has been extremely problematic. With the passage of time and the increase of inflation, it has become easier and easier for the Commonwealth to obtain felony convictions for the theft of relatively "inexpensive" items. As the Roanoke Times reports, Virginia's previous grand larceny threshold of $200 meant that stealing a pair of tennis shoes in the year 2017 had the potential to lead to a felony conviction and up to 20 years in prison. Fortunately, as of July 1, 2018, that grand larceny threshold has been increased to more than double the previous threshold and now sits at $500.00. This is the first time Virginia has raised its grand larceny threshold since 1980.

What effect will the change have?

Increasing the grand larceny threshold is a big deal for those who might otherwise have ended up facing an extremely serious felony charge for what might generally be considered a minor theft. One study, for example, found that in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 close to 850 people in the Commonwealth of Virginia who were charged with grand larceny would have instead been charged with petty larceny had the threshold been set at $500 at that time. Among those 850 people, reports indicated that approximately 340 of those charged were eventually convicted and served time in prison for grand larceny, with the median sentence being more than a year.

Nonetheless, while the $500 threshold is a step in the right direction, it is still a very low threshold compared to most of Virginia's neighbors. For example, North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and D.C all have their grand larceny thresholds set at $1,000, while Maryland has its threshold set at $1,200. Only Kentucky currently mirrors Virginia with a threshold set at $500. Further (and of curious note) the Virginia law that prohibits the intentional destruction or damage to the personal property of another sets the felony/misdemeanor boundary at $1,000.00. Therefore, under Virginia law, stealing certain tablets and smart-phones will net you a potential felony conviction while simply smashing that same item to bits will only result in a misdemeanor.

Criminal defense help

Regardless of the current of future felony/misdemeanor thresholds, being charged with a criminal offense like shoplifting or theft, needs to be taken very seriously. Anybody facing such criminal charges should reach out to a criminal defense attorney for assistance as soon as they can. An attorney can help advocate for their client's rights and help them through what can often be a very difficult and frightening experience.