← Back to Blog

Five-finger discounts are grabbing America by the throat. More than five million larceny-thefts occurred throughout the United States in 2019. Victims lost roughly $5.9 billion worth of property.

The scourge of larcenies and thefts has inspired the state of Virginia to be strict. The state has several types of theft charges, and each one carries significant penalties. When you’re dealing with criminal charges, you have to know about all of them.

What are theft and larceny in the state of Virginia? What penalties do misdemeanor and felony larceny carry? What defenses can you launch against criminal charges?

Answer these questions and you can walk out of a court with your head held high. Here is your quick guide.

The Definitions of Theft

Article 3, Title 18.2 of the Code of Virginia provides the official definitions of theft. The state uses the term, “larceny,” in lieu of theft. Both terms mean the same thing, and a lawyer may refer to larceny as theft because a jury may be more familiar with “theft.”

In general, larceny/theft occurs when someone takes a piece of property from another person to deprive the owner of their property. They may keep the property for themselves, or they may destroy it or sell it to someone else.

Misdemeanor Larceny

Misdemeanor larceny applies to thefts that are valued at less than $1,000. It does not matter if cash or property was stolen. Misdemeanor larceny is also called “petty larceny,” “petit larceny,” and “petty theft.”

As the name suggests, misdemeanor larceny carries Class 1 misdemeanor weight. However, you can be charged with a Class 6 felony for larceny if you have two previous convictions.

Shoplifting is not a separate offense in the state of Virginia. Because most shoplifting cases involve items of low value, judges and prosecutors often issue misdemeanor larceny charges for shoplifting. But it can carry felony weight if the theft was significant.

Felony Larceny

Theft of cash or property that is valued at more than $1,000 is felony larceny. Felony larceny is also known as “grand larceny.”

In the state of Virginia, there is no separate crime for auto theft. The state assumes that any car is valued at more than $1,000, so the theft of any car counts as felony larceny. Anyone who steals a firearm can get charged with felony larceny, regardless of how valuable the firearm is.

Related Offenses

Some people confuse larceny with robbery. Robbery occurs when someone steals someone else’s property by using violence. They may shove someone to the ground or threaten them with a weapon.

Larceny involves no use of violence whatsoever. Someone may sneak an item into their pocket without the victim noticing.

Larceny of animals is a Class 5 felony, regardless of the value of the animals. But larceny of sheep, lambs, or goats that are valued at less than $1,000 is a Class 6 felony.

Larceny with the intent to sell or distribute is a felony with a minimum prison sentence of two years. If more than one item of the same product was stolen, prosecutors will assume the theft occurred with the intent to sell the stolen items. This offense is separate from larceny, so you can get charged with both larceny and larceny with the intent to sell.

Penalties and Sentences

Class 1 misdemeanor crimes are punishable with a prison sentence of up to 12 months. You may also need to pay a fine of up to $2,500.

However, a judge has broad discretion to assign punishments, especially for first-time offenders. They may opt to sentence someone to probation and community service in lieu of imprisonment, especially if the theft was small.

Class 5 and 6 felony crimes like grand larceny are “wobblers.” A judge can consider them to be misdemeanors and sentence a defendant to community service instead of jail. They will do this for some first-time offenders who stole property of low value.

If they decide to charge the crime as a felony, the judge can sentence someone to one to five years in prison. For a Class 5 felony crime, the judge may sentence the defendant to up to ten years in prison.

Being convicted of a felony means more than going to prison. You can lose your right to vote and own a firearm.

Even if you are acquitted, you will have a criminal record. Potential employers and landlords can access your criminal record and deny job and housing opportunities to you. Noncitizens with criminal records may have problems with their immigration status and can be deported.


You can pursue several defenses in order to avoid incarceration. You should get a theft charges defense lawyer so you can mount the best possible defense.

Establishing an alibi means proving you were in another location at the time of the theft. You can use eyewitness testimonies, surveillance footage, and phone records to show you were somewhere else.

You may have obtained the item because you thought it was your property. You may have a receipt for it, or you may have entered into a verbal agreement with the victim to obtain it. This defense can lead to an acquittal or reduce the penalties of the theft.

The Essentials of Theft Charges

Theft charges are more severe than you think. Misdemeanor larceny applies to the theft of property valued at less than $1,000. Felony larceny is the theft of a firearm, farm animal, or property of more than $1,000.

Even a misdemeanor can land you in prison. You will have a criminal record that impedes your career and housing. But you can establish an alibi or prove you were mistaken about the property.

The key is to have a great defense attorney. A. Mark Nicewicz, Esq. serves Fairfax residents. Contact us today.

Areas of Practice

  • Criminal Law
  • Traffic Violations
  • Reckless Driving
  • Felonies and Misdemeanors

Bar Admissions

  • Virginia, 1985
  • District of Columbia, 1987
  • U.S. District Court Eastern District of Virginia, 1985
  • U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, 1987
  • U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit, 1985
  • U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Federal Claims


  • University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville, Virginia
    • J.D. - 1985
  • Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    • B.A. magna cum laude - 1982
    • Honors: Phi Beta Kappa
    • Major: Economics & Philosophy
Free Consultation
close slider