What Is the Prosecutor Required to Prove in a Virginia Larceny Case?
Larceny offenses generally fall into two categories: larcenies from another person and larceniescommitted through trickery (fraud).All the various larceny-related offenses in Virginia share the following common elements:
- the defendant fraudulently or wrongfully took some property (e.g., money, car, ring, etc.),
- the property belonged to someone other than the defendant,
- the property had a value,
- the defendant did not have the owner’s permission to take the property, and5.the defendant intended to deprive the true owner of the property permanently.
Why Does the Value of the Item Matter?
The value of the item that was fraudulently or wrongfully taken is important for two reasons: (a) the value of the item determines whether the crime is charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, and (b) the item in question must have some value that can be assigned to it or a person charged with larceny cannot be convicted. The question in determining whether the larceny will be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony is whether the value of the item is $200 or greater. If the value of the item is less than $200, then the defendant will be charged with a Class1 Misdemeanor and upon conviction will face up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500. If the value of the item is $200 or more, then the defendant will be charged with an Unclassified Felony and upon conviction could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Who Has to Establish the Value and How Can the Value Be Challenged?
The burden is on the prosecutor in a larceny case to prove the value of the stolen property to the judge or jury. Unfortunately, the prosecutor can prove value by simply having the owner testify and offer an opinion on what the property is worth. This is dangerous and potentially unfair to the defendant—for example,if the property is an antique or an item that has been passed down through the owner’s family and has sentimental value far in excess of its fair market value. In this type of situation, the defendant will need a good criminal attorney to question the owner in court as to the actual fair value that should be assigned to the property. The good news for the defendant is that the owner’s opinion can be challenged, and successfully challenging the value of the property as stated by the owner could mean the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor conviction.Because there are many different types of property that could be the subject of a larceny-related charge, it is important to know and understand the different rules that are used to establish value for each. Here are a few examples, although this is not an exhaustive list:
Money. It’s face value is its value.
Tangible Property. Value at the time of the theft—which can be established by fair market value or the value assigned through the opinion of the owner.
Items Shoplifted From a Store. Value is that which is established by the retail price or the price shown on the price tag.
Property That Depreciates Over Time. Value is based on current value. An obvious example of property which depreciates in value over time is a car. One accepted way to determine the fair market value of a car is to use the NADA book value. If the item is something other than a car, then the services of an appraiser could be utilized to establish the value of the property.
How Does the Recidivist Statute for Larceny-Related Offenses Work?
A recidivist statute is a law which provides harsher penalties for repeated convictions.The Virginia Code does in fact have a theft recidivist statute, under which a person will automatically face a felony charge if the prosecutor can prove that the defendant has been two times previously convicted of theft-related offenses. For example, let’s say a defendant has two prior convictions for petty larceny or misdemeanor larceny. The defendant is subsequently arrested for stealing a pack of gum,soda and candy bar from a convenience store. Although these items from the convenience store are not worth anywhere near $200, the defendant will be charged with a Class 6Felony and face a prison sentence of up to 5 years. It should be noted that juvenile adjudications of delinquency for larceny-related offenses are NOT considered prior convictions for purposes of the the ftrecidivist statute. Prior robbery convictions, even though robbery is defined as a larceny from another person with the use of force, threats or intimidation, are also NOT considered prior convictions for purposes of the recidivist law.
Is Larceny With the Intent to Sell the Property More Serious Than General Larceny?
Larceny with the Intent to Sell, as long as the value of the property in question is greater than orequal to $200, does carry a more serious punishment range than Grand Larceny; specifically, imprisonment for no less than 2years to no more than 20 years. Also, a defendant can be charged with Grand Larceny AND Larceny withIntent to Sell as it relates to the sameitem without a violation of double jeopardy rights.
What If You Were Charged With Receipt of Stolen Property But Didn’t Know the Item Was Stolen?
When a defendant has been charged with Receipt of Stolen Property in Virginia, the prosecutor does have to prove that the defendant knew the item was stolen. Unless a defendant admits to law enforcement or some other witness that he or she knew the item was stolen,then this may very well be difficult for a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. A confession by the defendant in the form of a statement that the defendant knew the item was stolen would be an example of direct evidence of this required element. However, a prosecutor could also proceed with this charge by using circumstantial evidence. For example, a prosecutor may have evidence that the defendant only paid a thief $100 for a ring that is valued at more than $10,000. The payment of such a low amount of money could be used as evidence to prove that the defendant knew that the item was stolen. Another example would be in the case of a stolen vehicle. If police found a defendant to be in possession of a car with an ignition that was popped out, this could also be circumstantial evidence that the defendant knew the item was stolen.
If the defendant has not made any incriminating statements and there are no clear circumstances indicating that the defendant had to have known the property was stolen, then a defense attorney can persuasively argue that the possession itself is not conclusive proof of the defendant’s knowledge that the item was stolen. However, it is also important to know that the law in Virginia permits an inference that the accused knew the goods were stolen and had dishonest intent when the defendant was found in exclusive possession of recently stolen property.