27 August 2013
VTP: Defining Larceny
Larceny is the most basic of theft crimes. Of course, a crime this important can’t possibly be statutorily defined. Instead, in Virginia we rely on definitions which have been developed by the courts over the centuries. At its core larceny is criminal trespass upon the chattels of another with the intent not to restore those property rights trod upon. See Vaughan v. Lytton, 126 Va. 671 (1920)(a discussion of the definitions offered by various legal treatises for larceny and specifically 2 Bishop on Criminal Law describing theft as trespass). In Virginia cases you will sometimes see this described as “trespassory taking.” This is instructive in that points to larceny as the original “theft” crime whence all the larcenies, frauds, embezzlements, and statutory theft crime sprang (probably so far back in history that we would have to examine British common law to find its roots).
In more modern times the definition of larceny has been somewhat more locked down. It is defined as “the wrongful or fraudulent taking of personal goods of some intrinsic value, belonging to another, without his assent, and with the intention to deprive the owner thereof permanently.” Carter v. Commonwealth, 280 Va. 100, 104-105 (2010).
Most of that is pretty simple to understand, but “intrinsic value” does need some clarification. Under long-standing Virginia case law there is no requirement that the prosecution actually prove a value to prove larceny occurred. The value can be less than that of the smallest coin and no distinct proof of a specific value is necessary. Wolverton v. Commonwealth, 75 Va. 909, 913 (Va. 1882).
With this, we have the basic framework of larceny. I’ll build from here in the next couple posts wherein I discuss felony larcenies, misdemeanor larcenies, exceptions to larceny, presumptions of larceny, continuing larceny, attempts, conspiracies, and deemed versus punished as.
Author: Ken Lammers on 8/27/2013
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Thanks! You just gave a great explanation in the first two or three sentences about how some courts can allow people to plead shoplifting to trespass... Not that I agree with that practice, since it significantly alters the common perception of the character of the offense.
Sounds like a fascinating lineup. But as a long-time reader, I have to say I will be a little disappointed if you don't bring up caption and asportation.
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