Learn what Virginia laws relate to shoplifting and larceny, and how serious the penalties are for violating these laws.
What is shoplifting?
Shoplifting is a form of larceny. Virginia law defines the offense as willfully 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).
What is larceny?
Crimes involving the taking of property are referred to as larceny.
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 directly from a person of money or other thing (taking something directly from another person) 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 thing 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 20 years or, at the discretion of the jury or court trying the case without a jury, jailed for a period not exceeding 12 months or fined not more than $2,500, either or both (Code of Virginia § 18.2-95).
Other forms of larceny outlined in Virginia code include:
- unauthorized use of a vehicle (Code of Virginia § 18.2-102)
- embezzlement (money, property, or other valuable items taken during the course of employment or when entrusted under his/her control) (Code of Virginia § 18.2-111)
- burglary: common law and statutory burglary (breaking and entering into another’s dwelling, office, store, car, commercial property, etc. in the daytime/nighttime with intent to commit a felony (such as rape and murder) or any larceny) (Code of Virginia § 18.2-89 —18.2-92 § 18.2-147.1)
- receiving stolen goods (Code of Virginia § 18.2-108)
What are the consequences of shoplifting?
Shoplifting is illegal. Committing a shoplifting act can result in being charged with a crime. Consequences can include:
- Jail time
- Court costs and fines
- Attorney fees
- Civil liability to the owner for legal costs and for goods and merchandise, up to certain limits
- Being banned from the premises of the offense
- Other long-lasting negative effects on future prospects including employment and college
(Code of Virginia § 18.2-103)
A shoplifting conviction may have long-lasting negative effects on that person’s future employment, college prospects, and scholarship opportunities. And if a person shoplifts and then sells the shoplifted item on the internet, it may be prosecuted as a federal crime. For example, in 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice reported that a father and daughter were sentenced to federal prison for selling stolen retail products through their online businesses. (See at https://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga).
What is a crime of moral turpitude?
Crimes that involve lying, cheating, or stealing are known as crimes of moral turpitude, meaning that they violate the agreed-upon moral standards of the community. Shoplifting and other forms of larceny are considered crimes of moral turpitude.
Once convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, that stigma is attached to your credibility in court. Besides the stigma of having a crime of moral turpitude on your record, being charged with shoplifting may negatively affect your ability to:
- Obtain federal security clearance for employment purposes
- Join the military
- Obtain employment
- Attend the college of your choice