Protecting Your Rights
Larceny crimes are the most common property crimes in Virginia. There are two general types of larceny crimes: petit or “petty” larceny and grand larceny. Both forms of larceny are criminal offenses but grand larceny is a felony and petty larceny is a misdemeanor.
What is Larceny?
An individual commits larceny by wrongfully taking the property of another person without the owner’s consent and with the intention of permanently depriving the owner of their property.
You cannot accidentally commit larceny. If you are leaving a party and you accidentally take the wrong coat, you did not commit a larceny.
Likewise, if you believe that you have a right to take property when you in fact do not have that right, you have not committed larceny. So, if a con-artist sells me a car he doesn’t own, I do not commit a larceny if I then take the car believing I had bought it.
Additionally, temporarily borrowing property without permission is not larceny. The defendant must have had the intent of permanently depriving the owner of his property. If I borrow my neighbor’s lawnmower without permission and I leave a note saying “I’ll bring this back Sunday” I am a terrible neighbor, maybe I am guilty of embezzlement but I did not commit larceny.
The intent to take an owner’s property also must exist at the time that the property was taken. So, if your neighbor loans you his tools and you intend on bringing them back, but after a month you decide to keep them permanently this is not larceny.
Embezzlement Vs. Larceny
Police and prosecutors often confuse embezzlement with larceny. Embezzlement is when you have permission to possess an item that you then steal. Larceny is when you take something without any permission.
For example, if I am a cashier, I have permission to handle the money. If I pocket the money I handled with permission I am embezzling that money. If I take the same money without having permission to handle it then I committed larceny. A person who is guilty of only Embezzlement cannot be convicted of larceny.
A larceny must involve taking a physical thing of value. Stealing trade secrets, ideas, time or copyright infringement is not larceny.
The Single Larceny Rule
When a person is caught stealing multiple items there is questions regarding how many crimes are committed.
For example, if I go to a store and steal six items each worth $100 dollars, did I commit one felony grand larceny or did I commit six petite larcenies?
The “single larceny doctrine” is a rule that governs when stealing multiple items becomes one crime or multiple crimes. The single larceny doctrine states that stealing multiple items is one crime when the thief committed the thefts as part of a single act and a single intent.
The court will weigh the following factors in determine whether the single larceny doctrine applies:
- the location of the items stolen,
- the lapse of time between the takings
- the intentions of the thief,
- the number of owners impacted, and
- whether intervening events occurred between the takings
Here are some real examples of when the single larceny doctrine does and does not apply:
- Stealing two purses, owned by two people from the same location at the same time was a single larceny.
- Stealing a purse, a radio, and wallet from different people at different locations within a hospital all in the same day constituted three separate larcenies.
- Stealing from a church five times over 25 months is five separate crimes when each time the defendant intended that theft to be his last.
- Stealing jewelry for money, a rifle for protection, and a car in order to escape, all at the same home, from the same owner, at about the same time were three separate larcenies because they were each part of a separate intent or plan.