There is no specific auto theft crime in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Instead, it is charged as a larceny crime. While it can be charged as a misdemeanor, it is often a felony offense with more severe penalties. If you have been arrested for auto theft as a misdemeanor or felony, you need to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately to build a strong defense strategy so that you can achieve the best possible outcome.
What Are the Penalties You Face for Stealing a Motor Vehicle Under Petit and Grand Larceny Laws?
Auto theft falls under the crimes of petit and grand larceny. Larceny has been defined by Virginia courts as the unlawful taking of property that belongs to someone else with the intent to deprive the person of his property. There are three elements to this crime:
- Unlawful taking. A person unlawfully takes another’s motor vehicle if he exercises control of it. Examples of exercising control include driving the auto away or hiding it in a garage.
- Another individual’s vehicle. The motor vehicle must be owned by someone other than the person taking it.
- Intent. It must be proven that the accused took the motor vehicle with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of it. This means that he never intends to return the vehicle.
Whether an individual will be charged with petit or grand larceny will depend on the value of the auto stolen. If the auto's value is less than $500, the charge is petit larceny under Virginia Code § 18.2-96. Petit larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
If the value of the motor vehicle is $500 or more—which is frequently the case—the crime is grand larceny under Virginia Code § 18.2-95 and a felony offense. If convicted, a person may be sentenced to:
- One to 20 years in prison; or
- Up to 12 months in local jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500 in the judge or jury’s discretion.
When Stealing a Car Can Be Carjacking in Fairfax
Carjacking is another crime that can be charged when a person is arrested for auto theft. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-58.1, a person can be arrested for carjacking if he intentionally took another person’s motor vehicle with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the person of it through the use of or threat of serious bodily harm. Use or threat of physical harm can include:
- Making a threat or presenting a firearm or other deadly weapon
- Assaulting the victim
- Causing the victim to be in fear of serious bodily harm
- Striking or beating the victim
- Partially suffocating or strangling the victim
Carjacking is a felony offense that is punished by 15 years to life in prison.
Joyriding Is a Serious Crime in Virginia
Another auto-related crime is joyriding, or the unauthorized use of another’s auto. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-102, joyriding is defined as the unauthorized use of a vehicle without the owner’s permission with the intent to temporarily deprive the owner of it and not with the intent to steal it. The value of the auto will determine whether this crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.
If the vehicle’s value is under $500, the offense is a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500. When its value is $500 or more, the offense is a Class 6 felony, and the punishment may be a one- to five-year prison sentence. As with grand larceny, the judge or jury has the discretion to reduce the sentence to the punishment for a misdemeanor conviction.
Have you been charged with an auto theft crime? Our skilled legal team has decades of experience defending clients facing theft and other serious criminal charges. We represent clients in Fairfax, Northern Virginia, and Washington, D.C. To learn how we will aggressively fight to get the charges against you dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense, start a live chat to schedule your free consultation.