16 July 2014

Virginia Theft Project: Stealing Critters

Generally, in order to convict someone of a grand larceny (felony theft) either the value of the item must be shown to be at least $200 or there must have been two prior larceny convictions.  However, there are exceptions and one of the more interesting is the animal exception.
§ 18.2-97. Larceny of certain animals and poultry.
 Any person who shall be guilty of the larceny of a dog, horse, pony, mule, cow, steer, bull or calf shall be guilty of a Class 5 felony [10 year max]; and any person who shall be guilty of the larceny of any poultry of the value of $5 dollars or more, but of the value of less than $200, or of a sheep, lamb, swine, or goat, of the value of less than $200, shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony [5 year max].
As you might imagine, the courts in Virginia aren't exactly choked with people charged under this section. In fact, most of the animals covered by the class 5 felony would probably also be worth more than $200 and thus be charged under the felony by value statute  [20 year max]. However, this is not true for dogs. Consequently, when you see someone charged under this statute it is almost always because they have taken someone else's dog.

You're thinking to yourself, "Surely, people don't get charged under this statute for stealing Spot?" I'm here to tell you they do. It's not the most common charge in the world, but I've seen 4 or 5 people in court facing this charge and about the same number with a conviction for it on their record.

To be fair, there are valid policy reasons for felonizing dog theft in certain circumstances. If the dog is a tool or a profit center its inclusion in this statute makes sense. In other words hunting dogs, herding dogs, handicap assistance dogs, and Miriam Sherringham Terrentia Regina (a champion purebred shih tzu whose puppies sell for at least $1,000) all fit under the purpose of this statute. Rover, while he fits under the language of this statute, does not fit under its purpose. So, of course, the cases we see in court are almost all because someone stole Rover.

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