Newport News residents may use terms like theft, larceny and robbery interchangeably in everyday discussions. In fact, the legal definitions of these words, which all refer to taking something that doesn't belong to you, vary significantly. The distinctions among the terms are particularly important for Virginia criminal defendants.
Pickpocketing is not robbery because no force is used. Thefts and theft charges depend upon the way an item is stolen, the value of an item, the location where a theft takes place and the thief's intent for the item. For the purposes of this blog, let's focus on larceny.
The theft of a bicycle and the theft of a car are both larcenies. However, a defendant who steals a car is likely to suffer a harsher punishment than a bike thief. The difference between misdemeanor petit larceny and a more serious charge of felony grand larceny is the value of the stolen item.
For a larceny conviction, prosecutors must show a defendant took someone else's property without permission, with the intention of keeping the owner from ever getting it back. This must involve unlawful taking, so the charge is invalid when a defendant takes something for a legitimate reason.
You can't steal something that belongs to you. Theft disputes can occur over shared or borrowed property. What you can't do is prevent a co-owner from exercising property rights. Borrowing isn't stealing nor is retrieving a borrowed item from someone who has had it too long a form of theft.
Consent is vital. An owner must give consent for someone else to take property. This point can be blurred by an owner or defendant's perception of consent or ownership.
Larceny may seem like a relatively uncomplicated crime, but defendants learn in a hurry just how quickly the elements we explored can affect a legal outcome. Possible long-term consequences mean a defendant should not take theft charges lightly.
Source: FindLaw, "Definition of Larceny" Sep. 09, 2014