What to Know About Larceny and Embezzlement Charges in Virginia

Larceny, often referred to as shoplifting, stealing, or petit (or petty) theft, can result in many different charges in Fairfax County, Prince William County, and Northern Virginia. Theft is most commonly charged as:

  • Grand Larceny (Va. Code 18.2-95)
  • Petit Larceny (Va. Code. 18.2-96)
  • Concealment of Merchandise (Va. Code 18.2-103)
  • Embezzlement (Va. Code 18.2-111)

What's at Stake?

A theft offense can be either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the value of the items taken. The threshold between a misdemeanor and a felony is extremely low in Virginia. Offenses involving less than $200 in theft are misdemeanors while those offenses involving $200 or more of alleged theft are a felony.

Given the seriousness of theft crimes, anyone charged with any form of larceny or embezzlement in Fairfax County or Northern Virginia needs to consult with a lawyer who has previously handled such cases. Not only is felony larceny and embezzlement punishable by up to 20 years in prison, but theft and embezzlement crimes are considered crimes of "moral turpitude." The loss of freedom and other consequences from such a conviction can be life-changing.

How an Attorney Can Help You with Larceny or Embezzlement Charges

Since you have so much at stake, you must be sure that any attorney you hire has the judgment, skill, and reputation to obtain the best possible resolution of the matter. Our attorneys have handled hundreds of larceny and embezzlement cases.

Manikas Law, LLC will ensure that the charges against you are fully examined and that all evidence is evaluated.  In these cases, witness testimony and documentary evidence are crucial. Witness accounts and evidence from third parties that can aid in your defense must be obtained before such evidence is destroyed or lost. Our firm performs a sound analysis of all evidence and provides essential trial strategies to present you with the best possible defense.

A Theft Charge Doesn’t Always Mean a Conviction

Simply because someone is charged with a larceny or embezzlement offense in Virginia doesn't mean he or she will be convicted as charged. Instead, the case may be dismissed; the plaintiff may negotiate a plea bargain; or be found not guilty.

Dismissal of Charges

The charge can be dismissed if the prosecutor (Commonwealth's Attorney) is convinced that he will not prevail at trial or there are other compelling reasons why the prosecutor believes he should not pursue the charge.

Plea Bargains

There are also different plea bargain options if certain facts are present and the attorney handling the matter is skilled at negotiating a fair plea bargain.

The option of proceeding to trial always exists as well. The job of a great lawyer is to provide as many options as possible and then present and explain those options so that you can make an informed decision as to how to proceed.

What the Prosecutor Must Prove to Get a Larceny or Embezzlement Conviction

To get a conviction in Virginia for larceny (18.2-95), the government must prove that: (1) the accused took something of value; (2) the value was $200 or greater (to prove a felony); (3) the property belonged to another person; (4) the owner did not consent to the taking; (5) slight movement of the property taken and; (5) the taking was coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property.

Embezzlement

In Virginia, embezzlement (Va. Code 18.2-111) is similar in many respects to the crime of larceny. However, the key distinction is that embezzlement involves the theft of assets by a person in a position of trust over the assets. Like general larceny, whether a person is charged with a felony or misdemeanor is determined by the value of the assets that are stolen.

Most crimes of embezzlement in Virginia arise from an employment environment or context, but can involve public officials, bailors, and just about any other situation where one person is entrusted with care and control over another's property.

Embezzlement was created as a crime because larceny requires the unlawful taking of possession of property from another. In an employment or other similar context, the accused has lawful possession of the property that the police allege was stolen. Therefore, the crime must be prosecuted as embezzlement rather than larceny.

To commit embezzlement, the accused must first be shown to have been in lawful possession of the property of another. The property can be anything of value—as the statute states, "any money, bill, note, check, order, draft, bond, receipt, bill of lading or any other personal property." It must further be shown that the accused used or disposed of the property wrongfully, such that he intended to permanently deprive the owner of the property.

As noted, the crime of embezzlement applies to public officials. Public officials can alternatively be charged with embezzlement under Va. Code 18.2-112 or 18.2-112.1 to the extent that they use or permit the use of public assets for private or personal purposes.

Penalties for Larceny and Embezzlement in Virginia

Larceny and embezzlement can both be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Misdemeanor larceny (petit larceny 18.2-96) and misdemeanor embezzlement (18.2-111) are punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Felony larceny (grand larceny 18.2-95) and felony embezzlement are punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

Given that the threshold between a felony and a misdemeanor can mean a 19-year difference in the maximum prison term, it's critical that any defense attorney fully explore and challenge any evidence as to the value of the items alleged to have been stolen.

Even if the items were in fact worth more than $200, the prosecutor may have difficulty proving this. There are multiple cases from the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court that discussing how value can be proven. These cases create a situation where it can be very difficult for a prosecutor to prove the value of an item that was stolen.

For instance, where a store fails to save the price tag that was attached to an item that was stolen, the prosecutor usually has to offer expert testimony on the price of the item at the time it was stolen. It's not proper for an employee to say he read the price tag and then state what the price was—this is hearsay and is subject to other objections. Therefore, given the mistakes that store employees make in handling these cases, it may be possible to challenge things that may seem obvious to you, but from a legal standpoint are not so easily proven. Again, this is why you should only hire a lawyer with substantial experience in handling larceny, theft, and embezzlement cases.

It should also be noted that if the embezzlement was committed by a public official and the embezzlement is charged under Va. Code 18.2-112 or 18.2-112.1 (as opposed to 18.2-111), the crime is a Class 4 felony punishable by a minimum of two years in prison, a maximum jail term of 10 years, and a fine of up to $100,000.

People often want to know, "What is the average jail time a person receives for a conviction of theft, larceny, or embezzlement?"

However, the answer is highly case-specific and cannot be generalized. The answer in any given case depend on the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a person's prior criminal history, as well as a variety of other factors, including the specific facts of the case.  Certain facts will aggravate the case and could result in a judge ordering an increased amount of jail time.

In general, a person with prior criminal convictions will receive more jail time than a person who has no prior criminal record.  A case involving a greater amount of money will receive more jail time than one with less money at issue. 

However, the Virginia Sentencing Guidelines aren't mandatory guidelines. In other words, the judge is free to ignore the guidelines. If the crime is particularly egregious, the judge can impose additional jail time above and beyond what the guidelines recommend. Similarly, the judge can impose less jail time than the guidelines recommend. Therefore, it's extremely important to have an experienced and respected defense attorney to defend and present your case.

Sometimes an agreement can be made with the prosecutor at the preliminary hearing that caps the level of incarceration at the low end or midpoint of the sentencing guidelines, or an agreement that the sentence be within the guidelines, or an agreement to the guidelines if the guidelines work out to no incarceration.

Consult an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney for More Information

As discussed above, sentencing is a complicated analysis in Virginia. Therefore, it's important to discuss the possibilities of your case and sentencing with an experienced Virginia criminal defense lawyer.   

To speak with a Virginia larceny and embezzlement criminal defense lawyer about a charge in Fairfax County, Prince William County, Arlington County, Loudoun County, Alexandria, or elsewhere in Northern Virginia, contact Manikas Law, LLC by phone or email to schedule an appointment today.