Defining Theft Under West Virginia Law
In West Virginia statutes on criminal law, theft is referred to as “larceny,” a term used interchangeably with “theft” in many states. In general, larceny is committed when an offender unlawfully takes property that belongs to someone else, and the act is done with the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of his or her property. West Virginia laws also identify a number of specific theft-related offenses, including:
- larceny of bank notes, checks, and writings of value (W.Va. Code § 61.3.14.)
- receiving or transferring stolen goods (§ 61.3.18.)
- embezzlement (§ 61.3.20.), and
- obtaining money, property, and services by false pretenses (§ 61.3.24.)
Specific Theft Offenses and Penalties in West Virginia
West Virginia classifies most theft offenses according to the value of the property or services involved in the offense. Under West Virginia law, a theft offense can be either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances. Let’s take a closer look at different theft crimes in West Virginia, beginning with petit larceny (commonly known as petty theft).
Misdemeanor Theft / Petit Larceny. The lowest-level theft offense in West Virginia (other than minor shoplifting crimes) is called "petit larceny” (or petty theft), which is defined as theft of property or services valued at less than $1,000.
Petit larceny is a misdemeanor in West Virginia, punishable by a sentence of incarceration of no more than one year, a fine of no more than $2,500, or both, in the discretion of the court. (W.Va. Code § 61-3-13(b).)
Felony Theft / Grand Larceny. Theft is "grand larceny" in West Virginia if the value of the goods or services stolen is $1,000 or more.
Grand larceny is a felony in West Virginia, and offenders will receive a sentence of imprisonment in the state penitentiary for not less than one year and not more than ten years, or a sentence of imprisonment in jail for not more than one year, in the judge's discretion, and a fine of not more than $2,500. (§ 61-3-13(a).)
Shoplifting in West Virginia
While initial shoplifting convictions may only result in small fines in West Virginia, the penalties become progressively more severe with subsequent shoplifting convictions. Ultimately, even shoplifting can constitute a felony under West Virginia law.
First Shoplifting Offense. When the value of the merchandise stolen is $500 or less, shoplifting is a misdemeanor under West Virginia law, and is punishable by a fine of no more than $250. When the value of the merchandise stolen exceeds $500, shoplifting is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine ranging from $100 to $500, confinement in jail for a period of not more than 60 days, or both. (W.Va. Code § 61-3A-3.)
Second Shoplifting Offense. When the value of the merchandise stolen is $500 or less, shoplifting is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine ranging from $100 to $500, confinement in jail for not more than six months, or both. When the value of the merchandise stolen exceeds $500, shoplifting is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of at least $500, confinement in jail for at least six months but not more than one year, or both. (§ 61-3A-3.)
Third Shoplifting Offense. Regardless of the value of the merchandise stolen, a third shoplifting offense is a felony, which carries a punishment of a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000, imprisonment for at least one year but not more than 10 years. In this situation, the offender must spend at least one year in actual confinement, except in limited cases where home detention may be an option. (§ 61-3A-3.)
Civil Penalties for Theft in West Virginia
In addition to the criminal penalties described above, a person who has been convicted of shoplifting in West Virginia will be liable to the store owner for:
- return of the merchandise to the store
- actual damages, if the merchandise is damaged or not recovered, including the value of the merchandise
- other actual damages arising from the incident, and
- reimbursement of the store owner’s reasonable costs and attorneys’ fees in bringing the civil action. (W.Va. Code § 61-3A-5.)
Effect of Prior Convictions on Theft Charges in West Virginia
West Virginia larceny statutes do not specifically cover how prior convictions will affect a subsequent theft charge. However, any criminal convictions on an offender's criminal record (whether for theft-related offenses or for any other kinds of crime) are likely to result in harsher punishments at sentencing time. You can conduct your own legal research or speak to a West Virginia criminal law attorney in order to better understand how prior theft-related convictions, (or any prior conviction), may affect a theft charge.