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America is a nation of larceny. Nearly 5.1 million acts of larceny and theft occurred nationwide in 2019.

When people think of larceny, they often think of expensive pieces of property. Yet the average value of the property obtained through larceny was $1,162. Most people commit petit larceny, not grand larceny.

But what is petit larceny in the state of Virginia? What are its criminal penalties? How can someone defend themselves against a larceny charge, and what can a lawyer do?

Answer these questions and you can find the right defense attorney for your larceny charges. Here is your quick guide.

Petit Larceny Laws

Virginia does not have a strict definition of larceny. Under common law, larceny is the unlawful taking of property without the owner’s consent.

The definition is broad, accommodating many kinds of actions. Holding someone at gunpoint and taking property from them counts as larceny. Stealing property without the person’s knowledge can also count.

Subsection 18.2-96 of the Code of Virginia describes petit larceny. It occurs when someone steals property that is valued at less than $1,000.

Theft of a firearm does not count as petit larceny. It counts as grand larceny, which is a separate offense. Theft of property valued at more than $1,000 also counts as grand larceny.

Shoplifting is not a separate offense in the state of Virginia. Most shoplifting cases result in petit larceny charges.


Petit larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor. A judge may sentence someone to prison for up to one year. They may also have to pay a fine of up to $2,500.

Being convicted of a misdemeanor will create a criminal record. A person will not lose their right to vote or own a firearm. But employers may look at their records and decline job opportunities to them.

A prosecutor may charge someone with other offenses, depending on the circumstances. If a theft occurred inside someone’s house, a defendant can get charged with breaking and entering.

If a theft involved the use of force, a defendant can face an assault charge. Each of these charges carries its own criminal penalties.

Yet a defendant has some agency. Some prosecutors extend plea deals, allowing defendants to avoid extensive sentences. They may plead guilty on the petit larceny charge so the prosecutor drops all other charges.


There are a few defenses that a person can pursue. They need a Virginia criminal defense attorney to decide what their best course of action is.


An alibi provides an explanation for where a defendant was when the crime occurred. They may have been somewhere else entirely. If they were in the same building, they may have been doing something else.

An alibi is the best defense for a larceny charge. Yet it can be tricky to prove.

A defendant should provide unimpeachable evidence. Surveillance footage that shows them at another location at the same time is a good example. Eyewitness testimony from multiple people can also be helpful.


If someone commits larceny under duress, they may have a defense. They need to show that they were threatened with violence or blackmailed into committing the crime. Showing text messages or playing phone conversations that include a threat can prove duress.

Duress means that someone does not bear responsibility for the crime. It does not mean that they did not commit the crime. This can make duress a last resort for defendants looking for defenses.


Shoplifting can occur accidentally. Someone may place a pair of sunglasses or a keychain in their bag. They then forget about the item until they are leaving.

Someone may place an item in their friend’s bag. Their friend may then leave the store without paying for the item.

Surveillance footage that shows the shoplifting was an accident can help. But the defendant will likely need to testify in their own defense.

What a Lawyer Can Do

A defense lawyer can provide several services to client-facing larceny charges. They can represent the client as soon as they get arrested.

A lawyer can help a client navigate through the process after being arrested for shoplifting. They can represent the client during hearings and request that the client receive bail.

They will then take responsibility for the case. They will research the circumstances of the larceny and interview witnesses.

If a defendant wants to testify in court, a lawyer can help them. They can practice what testifying will be like and give the defendant suggestions on how they can improve.

Most defense lawyers handle plea deals on behalf of their clients. They negotiate with prosecutors to find the terms of the deal. They then file a motion saying that the defendant will plead guilty.

Whenever possible, a defendant should find a Virginia attorney who specializes in the kind of law they are facing. A criminal defense attorney who specializes in theft cases can use their knowledge of the law for someone’s benefit.

A client can have a long-term relationship with a lawyer. They can receive referrals for affordable traffic lawyers in Virginia if they ever run into traffic problems. A lawyer can also act as a larceny defense attorney and then as a traffic ticket defense attorney.

The Essentials of Petit Larceny

Petit larceny is the theft of property valued at less than $1,000. It sounds insignificant, but it can land a person in jail for one year.

Defenses need to be strong. Someone needs to show an alibi, or they should suggest they were coerced.

Attorneys can build defenses so their clients don’t go to jail. They can also help a person navigate through court hearings so they can focus on their personal life.

Don’t let the law steal you from your family. A. Mark Nicewicz, Esq., Attorney at Law serves the Fairfax County area. 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
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