Shoplifting charges are serious, and the penalties can be severe depending on the value of the items at issue, your prior record, and the circumstances of your case.
Virginia Law on Shoplifting
Shoplifting is simply a form of “larceny,” which is the wrongful or fraudulent taking of any items that belong to another without the consent of the rightful owner and with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the items. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-103, it is unlawful to do any of the following without authority and with the intent to take goods or merchandise without paying the full purchase price or to defraud the owner of the value of the merchandise:
- Conceal or take possession of the merchandise of any store
- Alter price tags of price markings on goods
- Transfer goods from one container to another to deprive the owner of their full value, or
- Assist anyone else in doing any of the above.
Penalties for Shoplifting
Under § 18.2-103, a shoplifting conviction involving goods valued at less than $500 is punishable as petit larceny. Petit larceny is punishable, under Virginia Code § 18.2-96, as a Class 1 misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
However, if the value of the stolen goods is $500 or more, then shoplifting is punishable as grand larceny, an unclassified felony punishable under § 18.2-95 with up to 20 years in jail, or up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500, in the discretion of the judge or jury.
Merchants Can Detain Suspected Shoplifters
Under Virginia Code § 18.2-105.1, shop owners or loss prevention officers have the authority to temporarily detain an individual, if they have probable cause to believe that individual shoplifted, for up to one hour pending the arrival of law enforcement officers.
Civil Liability for Shoplifting
In addition to criminal penalties for shoplifting, Virginia Code § 18.2-104.1 provides that any person convicted of a shoplifting offense under § 18.2-103 is civilly liable to the store owner for the retail value of any merchandise illegally taken and not recovered by the owner, and for the all costs incurred in prosecuting the individual under § 18.2-103. Those costs are limited to the actual expenses incurred by the store, such as the base wage of one employee acting as a witness for the Commonwealth in the case. The maximum total allowable costs under this statute are $250, not including the retail value of the goods and merchandise.
Possible Defenses to Shoplifting
Shoplifting is a serious offense with serious consequences, but an experienced criminal defense attorney can assist you in asserting defenses that may apply to your case. Those include, but are not limited, to the following:
- Mistaken identity: Sometimes shop owners or loss prevention officers may identify the wrong individual as a suspect in a shoplifting case. A careful review of any surveillance footage and other evidence may be necessary to ensure that the Commonwealth can prove identity beyond all reasonable doubt.
- Lack of intent: In order to obtain a conviction for shoplifting, the Commonwealth has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to “convert” (i.e., take or steal) the goods or merchandise to his own or another’s use or to defraud the owner of the goods. Simply taking something without such intent, such as when someone accidentally passes a checkout area without intending to take the goods and not paying for them, is not enough to prove intent to steal.
- A rightful claim of ownership
If you are charged with shoplifting, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process, carefully evaluate the evidence against you, and help you assert any defenses you may have. Depending on your record and the circumstances of the case, your attorney may be able to negotiate a deferral agreement that results in the dismissal of the case. Alternatively, your attorney may negotiate a favorable plea agreement on your behalf with the Commonwealth. And where appropriate, an experienced defense attorney can help you fight the case at trial and seek a not guilty verdict.