What to Do if You Have Been Charged with Grand Larceny in Fairfax County, Virginia
It can be surprising how quickly a larceny can be a life changing event. People may make an error in judgment, taking something without realizing that the value of the object they took made the action a felony. From there, life can be an uphill battle. Employers in particular are skeptical of hiring individuals with grand larcenies on their record because of the perceived harm that stealing will do to their business. If you have been charged with Grand Larceny in Fairfax County, Virginia, you need to know what the offense entails and what your options may be.
So, what is grand larceny? Grand larceny is covered under Virginia Code 18.2-95. Typically, the Commonwealth needs to prove that you intentionally took something without permission and that the thing you took was valued at more than $200.00. You can also commit a grand larceny by taking something valued at more than $5.00 from the person of another or by stealing a firearm. However, those portions of the statute are rarely used. This piece will instead focus on what it means to be charged with stealing something valued at greater than $200.00 in Fairfax County, Virginia.
What Qualifies as a Grand Larceny?
The thing about grand larceny in Fairfax County, Virginia is that it includes basically any kind of theft. One of the more common ways to get charged with grand larceny is to commit shoplifting. If you handle merchandize in a way that goes beyond what the store allows, you could be in trouble. Critically, this means you don’t even need to leave the store. If you take an item beyond the checkout lanes, the Commonwealth is generally going to have the evidence necessary to get their conviction. As well, the Commonwealth can prove the value of the allegedly stolen merchandize in a number of ways. Both one expensive pair of jeans at Macy’s or 200 dollars’ worth of stuff at the dollar satisfy the value requirement. And what about an item that is 50% off? Unfortunately, discounts don’t usually count for grand larcenies committed in Fairfax County, Virginia. The Commonwealth will normally get to use the full price.
The $200.00 threshold itself is absurdly low. The threshold hasn’t been updated since the 1980s and inflation has driven the cost of items way up. As well, technology has allowed for compact items that are expensive but also portable. The good news is that many prosecutors recognize that the grand larceny amount borders on ridiculous. Prosecutors can sometimes be convinced to make a reasonable plea offer when the characteristics of the defendant are such that they will probably learn their lesson. This primarily happens when the defendant is young or is enrolled in some kind of education like college. Of course, having no previous criminal record is a key component. The defendant can also help himself by engaging in efforts towards rehabilitation. Counseling and community service may be part of the key to getting a reduction if the item had a high value or there are other factors that indicate a reduction may not be a sure thing. Speaking with a good Fairfax County grand larceny attorney who knows what the different players in the jurisdiction are looking to see can be a very useful way of discovering what your options are.
What Can I Do to Prepare for my Court Date?
Building a record that can help a defendant before his trial date can be tricky. There are some obvious things you can do to help yourself. One obvious one is to talk to an attorney. An attorney can help you understand the nuances of your case and, perhaps more importantly, can conduct an expert investigation. For example, an attorney will know the laws surrounding discovery and the Brady doctrine. This will permit your lawyer to take a peek at some of what the Commonwealth’s case will be. It’s important to remember to be entirely co-operative with your attorney, however. Your lawyer will want to know the truth and, in order to avoid surprises, you must tell your attorney exactly what happened. If you don’t cooperate with your lawyer and something unexpected happens everyone looks bad; but client will usually suffer the most. This is particularly true if the judge believes the client has been dishonest.
One thing you should never, ever do is talk to the police or the shop personnel. Both may try and talk to you about the case, but remember that anything you say can be used against you at your hearing. The police know this as well, and may try and convince you that talking with them is the responsible thing to do. Don’t be fooled into thinking this will help your case. In reality, you are playing into their hands by giving them more evidence. If talking with your employer is a realistic possibility, it is something your lawyer can do without incriminating you.
What Should I Expect in Court?
Prosecutors and defense attorneys go through these cases so many times that they usually play out the say way procedural each time. Often, the Commonwealth’s Attorney won’t have to time to peruse the details of a case until the court date. This is in contrast to your attorney, who has been working with you throughout your case. After the Commonwealth has had a chance to look at the case and review the evidence, he will meet with your attorney. What will follow will basically be a negotiation where your attorney will make the case for a good offer. After which the Commonwealth will offer a plea. Of course, the Commonwealth controls the terms of the plea deal, but the ultimate decision is up to the defendant on whether to take the plea or go to trial.
Accepting a plea usually has upsides and downsides. On the one hand, accepting a plea means that you waive certain rights such as the right to a jury trial and the right to appeal. On the other hand, many times the Commonwealth will offer to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor. This of course is conditioned on a low value amount and short criminal record. Keeping a felony off your record is often worth more than trying to beat the charge. Even if the evidence is close, having that guarantee of a felony free record can be worthwhile. If you go to trial and win, then the charges will be dismissed with zero consequences. The decision can be a very difficult one. It is absolutely critical that you speak with your attorney and know exactly where you stand before you proceed.
Are There Any Defenses that Exist?
The section above already detailed the best defense in grand larceny case: convincing the Commonwealth’s Attorney that you are a good person. While this usually only gets the charge dropped to a petit larceny, almost anything is better than having the felony on your record.
Of course, a second prong that can sometime be successful is to attack the Commonwealth’s evidence. Remember, the Commonwealth needs to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. That means, for example, the value of the item needs to be properly calculated. While this is usually easy to prove for the Commonwealth with thefts from stores, a neighbor’s 5 year old lawn mower might be a different story. There can be evidentiary issues that keep the Commonwealth’s evidence out of court as well. For example, if the witness only heard a rumor that you took the stuff, then a hearsay objection might keep that evidence out. The rules of evidence are especially complicated, and are a good reason to contact an attorney about your case. What about the intent behind the theft? Did you put something in your cart intending to make a decision about it later and just forgot? There can sometimes be a way to argue that the theft was mistaken. The quality of the evidence put forth by the Commonwealth will also be important. If they have witnesses, will they show up? If video, is the video clear? Prosecutors don’t ever like to lose, and if they believe the case is risky there is a chance they can be convinced to drop the charges or offer a good plea deal.
What Are the Consequences for a Grand Larceny?
A grand larceny is an undefined felony. It carries a sentence of between one and twenty years or up to 12 months and $2,500.00. That said, for a usual first time grand larceny the sentencing guidelines do not usually suggest jail time. Judges can ignore these guidelines, however, and sentence the defendant anywhere in the statutory range. Still, unlike violent or sex crimes, jail time usually is not involved.
Of course, that can change if the defendant has a lengthy criminal record or stole items with a massive value. Lastly, the victim is usually the Commonwealth’s trump card. Thefts from big department stores are unlikely to arouse as much ire from the judge or jury as thefts from, say, the elderly. In these circumstances, it becomes important to act pre-emptively to find ways to show the court that you are repentant and rehabilitated. Getting in contact with an attorney can help you discover ways to convince a court that a jail sentence is not appropriate in your case.