Learn what types of crimes involve taking or destroying property and what penalties are involved.
What are crimes against property?
Crimes against property are offenses involving property and include both crimes in which property is destroyed and crimes in which property is stolen or taken against the owner’s will.
A broad range of offenses are classified as crimes against property, including those having to do with taking property, with destroying property, and with wrongfully using or possessing property. Listed below are examples of crimes against property with brief definitions.
What types of crimes involve taking property?
Larceny or theft is defined generally as the unlawful taking or carrying away of someone else’s personal property with the intent to deprive the owner of it permanently.
In Virginia, petit larceny is defined as larceny from a person of money or other thing valued at less than $5 or larceny not from the person of goods valued at less than $1,000. Petit larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-96).
In Virginia, grand larceny is defined as larceny from a person of money or other things valued at $5 or more, larceny not from the person of goods valued at $1,000 or more, or larceny not from the person of any firearm. Grand larceny is punishable by imprisonment in a state correctional facility for not less than one nor more than twenty years or, at the discretion of the jury or court trying the case without a jury, jail for a period not exceeding twelve months or fined not more than $2,500, either or both. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-95).
One form of larceny is shoplifting. Virginia law defines the offense as concealing or taking possession of goods, altering the price tag or other price marking, or assisting another with the intent of converting the merchandise to his own or another’s use without having paid the full purchase price. If the merchandise is valued at less than $1,000, it is petit larceny; if it is valued at $1,000 or more, the offense is grand larceny. It is important to know that simply concealing the merchandise while on the premises is considered evidence of the intent to take it. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-103).
Burglary has historically been defined as breaking and entering a home at night with intent to commit a felony or larceny. The modern definition is broader, also including breaking and entering an occupied home with intent to commit any crime. Other types of burglary apply to all buildings, including breaking and entering, entering and concealing oneself, or entering without breaking in the nighttime, all with intent to commit a felony, a larceny, or an assault. Burglary is punishable by up to life in prison, depending on the circumstances. (Code of Virginia §§ 18.2- 89 through 18.2-93, 18.2-147.1).
What types of crimes involve taking property by deceit?
Fraud is generally defined as the intentional perversion of the truth for the purpose of inducing another person or entity to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right to the thing of value. Many different types of fraud are defined in Virginia law.
Computer fraud is a crime which occurs when a person uses a computer or computer network, without authority, and 1) obtains property or services by false pretenses, 2) embezzles or commits larceny, or 3) converts the property of another. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-152.3).
Identity theft occurs when someone, without authorization or permission, obtains, records or accesses identifying information that is not available to the general public; obtains money, credit, loans, or goods or services through use of the identifying information; obtains identification documents in another person’s name; or obtains identifying information while impersonating a law enforcement officer or state government official. Upon conviction, the offender faces not only criminal penalties, but also requirements for making restitution. Additionally, victims of identity theft may receive assistance from the Attorney General to correct inaccuracies or errors in his credit report or other records. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-186.3).
Counterfeiting and forgery are generally defined as altering, copying, or imitating something, without authority or right, with the intent to deceive or defraud by passing the copy or thing altered or imitated as that which is original or genuine or the selling, exchanging, buying, or possession of an altered, copied, or imitated thing with the intent to deceive or defraud. Many types of counterfeiting are defined in Virginia law. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-168 – 18.2-173).
Embezzlement is generally defined as the unlawful misappropriation by an offender to his/her own use or purpose of money, property, or some other thing of value entrusted to his/her care, custody or control. In Virginia law, embezzlement is considered larceny. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-111).
What types of property crimes involve destroying property?
Destruction, damage, or vandalism of property is generally defined as willfully or intentionally destroying, damaging, defacing, or otherwise injuring real or personal property without the consent of the owner or the person having custody or control of it.
Virginia law specifically prohibits damaging public buildings and materials in libraries and schools. Code of Virginia § 18.2-138 states:
- Any person who willfully and maliciously (i) breaks any window or door of the Capitol, any courthouse, house of public worship, college, school house, city or town hall, or other public building or library, (ii) damages or defaces the Capitol or any other public building or any statuary in the Capitol, on the Capitol Square, or in or on any other public buildings or public grounds, or (iii) destroys any property in any of the buildings shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony if damage to the property is $1,000 or more or a Class 1 misdemeanor if the damage is less than $1,000.
- Any person who willfully and unlawfully damages or defaces any book, newspaper, magazine, pamphlet, map, picture, manuscript, or other property located in any library, reading room, museum, or other educational institution shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony if damage to the property is $1,000 or more or a Class 1 misdemeanor if the damage is less than $1,000.
- Graffiti or “tagging” falls within this definition.
Code of Virginia § 8.01-43 specifically addresses minors who are caught damaging public property and action that can be taken against the parents:
- The Commonwealth, acting through the officers having charge of the public property involved, or the governing body of a county, city, town, or other political subdivision, or a school board may bring an action and recover from the parents or either of them of any minor living with the parents or either of them for damages suffered by reason of the willful or malicious destruction of, or damage to, public property by such minor. No more than $2,500 may be recovered from the parents or either of them as a result of any incident or occurrence on which the action is based.
Code of Virginia § 22.1-280.4 authorizes school boards to take action against a student or his parents:
- A school board may take action against a student or the student’s parent for any actual loss, breakage, or destruction of or failure to return property, owned by or under the control of the school board, caused or committed by such student in pursuit of his studies. Such action may include seeking reimbursement from a student or the student’s parent for any such loss, breakage, or destruction of or failure to return school property.
Another property crime involving destroying property is arson, which is setting fire with intent to cause damage. Arson is a very serious offense and includes the burning or destruction of a dwelling home, meeting home, personal property, building and structures in the building, etc. (Code of Virginia §§ 18.2-77—18.2-82, 86-88). Arson includes carelessly damaging property by fire. (Code of Virginia § 18.2-88). The penalty for this crime ranges from a Class 4 misdemeanor to a Class 3 felony, depending on circumstances. Someone convicted of a Class 3 felony can be imprisoned for not less than five years or up to 20 years, and/or required to pay a fine of up to $100,000.
Are there other types of property crimes?
Yes, there are many other crimes that fall in the general category of crimes against property.
Two property crimes that teens especially need to know about are receiving stolen property and trespass.
Code of Virginia § 18.2-108 prohibits buying or receiving stolen goods:
A. If any person buys or receives from another person, or aids in concealing, any stolen goods or other thing, knowing that it has been stolen, he shall be deemed guilty of larceny thereof, and may be proceeded against, although the principal offender is not convicted.
B. If any person buys or receives any goods or other thing, used in the course of a criminal investigation by law enforcement that such person believes to have been stolen, he shall be deemed guilty of larceny thereof
Trespass is defined in several sections of the Code of Virginia:
§ 18.2-128 prohibits trespass upon church or school property.
A. Any person who, without the consent of some person authorized to give such consent, goes or enters upon, in the nighttime, the premises or property of any church or upon any school property for any purpose other than to attend a meeting or service held or conducted in such church or school property, shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor.
B. It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a church member or student, to enter upon or remain upon any church or school property in violation of (i) any direction to vacate the property by a person authorized to give such direction or (ii) any posted notice which contains such information, posted at a place where it reasonably may be seen. Each time such person enters upon or remains on the posted premises or after such direction that person refuses to vacate such property, it shall constitute a separate offense.
A violation of this subsection shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor, except that any person, other than a parent, who violates this subsection on school property with the intent to abduct a student shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
C. For purposes of this section: (i) “school property” includes a school bus as defined in § 46.2-100 and (ii) “church” means any place of worship and includes any educational building or community center owned or leased by a church.
Other sections of the Code of Virginia prohibit several types of trespass:
- § 18.2-134 prohibits trespass on posted property. Class 1 misdemeanor
- § 18.2-119 prohibits going upon any property owned by another after having been forbidden to trespass there. Class 1 misdemeanor
- § 18.2-125 prohibits trespass in any cemetery at night for any purpose other than visiting a family member’s burial lot or grave. Class 4 misdemeanor
Also defined in the Code of Virginia § 18.2-152.4 is the crime of computer trespass.
It is a Class 1 misdemeanor for any person, with malicious intent, to do any of the following: (1) temporarily or permanently remove, halt, or disable any computer data, computer programs or computer software from a computer or computer network; (2) cause a computer to malfunction, regardless of how long the malfunction persists; (3) alter, disable, or erase any computer data, computer programs or computer software; (4) create or alter a financial instrument or of an electronic transfer of funds; (5) use a computer or computer network to cause physical injury to the property of another; (6) or use a computer or computer network to make or cause to be made an unauthorized copy, in any form, including, but not limited to, any printed or electronic form of computer data, computer programs or computer software residing in, communicated by, or produced by a computer or computer network.
This is crime of a Class 6 felony if any of these actions cause damage to another person’s property valued at $1,000 or more.
Technical measures implemented by electronic mail service providers to screen e-mails (spam) and action taken by parents to monitor the computer usage of their minor children are not prohibited.