Hand putting a bottle inside a bag

Larceny vs Shoplifting - What’s the Difference?

The main difference between larceny and shoplifting is that shoplifting focuses on the specific theft-related offense that was committed. Larceny is a term that is used to describe theft-related offenses. They can be classified either as grand larceny or petit larceny depending upon whether a person is accused of shoplifting $1,000 or more worth of merchandise.

If you are facing theft-related charges in Virginia, you might be under the assumption that larceny charges are more serious than shoplifting charges. In some states, shoplifting is specifically classified as a more minor, or misdemeanor, offense in comparison with more serious theft-related charges. In Virginia, however, it is important to understand that the term “larceny” is how various types of theft offenses are characterized.

As such, shoplifting and larceny charges are not the same thing—there is a difference between larceny and shoplifting charges—but the distinction might not be the one you are thinking of. In short, shoplifting will be classified as a type of larceny charge depending upon the amount of property stolen. We want to explain in more detail.

What is Larceny in Virginia?

Larceny is a word like we said above, that is used to describe theft-related offenses in the state. Virginia law broadly distinguishes between grand larceny (Code of Va. § 18.2-95) and petit larceny (Code of Va. § 18.2-96). According to state law, grand larceny is the most serious theft offense in the state, and whether a theft offense is classified as grand larceny largely depends upon the amount of money or the value of property stolen (or that was attempted to be stolen). In general, you can assume that grand larceny is typically charged as a felony offense, resulting in anyone who has been convicted of grand larceny facing prison time in addition to significant fines. For quite some time, the grand larceny threshold was only $500. Accordingly, anyone accused of shoplifting merchandise worth $500 or more would face grand larceny charges. Relatively recently, however, Virginia law changed. New legislation increased the felony threshold to $1,000. Under the new law, shoplifting of merchandise worth $1,000 or more is charged as grand larceny, while a lesser value is charged as petit larceny.

In terms of petit larceny, this is a criminal charge for most types of theft-related offenses when the property was stolen is valued at under $1,000. Accordingly, petit larceny is typically how shoplifting is charged when a person is accused of stealing, or attempting to steal, merchandise worth less than $1,000. You should know that even petit larceny is a Class 1 misdemeanor offense. If you are convicted, you can face a sentence of up to one year in jail and a monetary fine that could be as much as $2,500.

What is Shoplifting in Virginia?

Shoplifting is a specific type of theft-related offense in Virginia (Code of Va. § 18.2-103) that concerns the theft of merchandise from a retail establishment. Merchandise theft can take many different forms, and the statute specifically identifies shoplifting as any of the following:

  • Concealing merchandise;
  • Taking merchandise without paying for it;
  • Altering the price tags on merchandise in order to pay less than the price tag amount;
  • Transferring goods in a retail establishment from one container to another; or
  • Counseling, assisting, aiding, or abetting another person in any of the above acts.

The statute expressly states that “the willful concealment of goods or merchandise of any store or other mercantile establishment, while on the premises thereof, shall be prima facie evidence of intent to convert and defraud the owner thereof out of the value of the goods or merchandise.”

To be clear, shoplifting is one type of theft-related offense, and it can be classified either as grand larceny or petit larceny depending upon whether a person is accused of shoplifting $1,000 or more worth of merchandise.

Seek Advice from a Manassas Theft Defense Attorney

As we have emphasized, even facing petit larceny charges for shoplifting can still result in a criminal record, jail time, and a hefty fine. It is critical to have an experienced Virginia theft defense lawyer to help you strategize about the best defense strategy for beating these charges against you.