Virginia is for felonies? Petty theft law from 1980s sticks - Albuquerque Journal

Virginia is for felonies? Petty theft law from 1980s sticks

RICHMOND, Va. — Stealing a $230 pair of eyeglasses would land you a misdemeanor conviction in most states. Shoplifting the same item in Virginia could make you a felon for life.

To keep pace with inflation, at least 30 states have raised the dollar minimum for felony charges in the last two decades. Three dozen have a threshold of $1,000 or more, and Wisconsin and Texas won’t charge thefts of less than $2,500 as felonies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Virginia, however, has kept its felony bar at $200 since 1980, when that money had the same buying power as nearly $600 does today. Virginia is tied with New Jersey for having the nation’s lowest felony threshold.

Damien Ferebee said he was so embarrassed after he was caught stealing those eyeglasses that he paid back the store in Norfolk. Ferebee, who had a prior robbery conviction from 2004, pleaded guilty to felony larceny and was sentenced to six months in jail. He also lost his job. Now working as a cook at 31, he fears the latest felony will haunt him for years.

“You want to get back from your mistakes, but it just makes it harder,” Ferebee said.

Ken Cuccinelli, a former Republican Virginia attorney general who supports raising the threshold, says Virginians and especially Republicans in the state have a long history “of only dealing with crime by making anything and everything tougher.”

Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s effort to make anything less than $500 a misdemeanor sailed through the Republican-controlled Senate this year, but was stymied in a GOP-led House committee last month after retail groups insisted the lower threshold deters shoplifting.

“The question is, why would we make it easier on people who steal?” said Republican Del. Rob Bell.

Critics say Virginia’s policy is overly harsh on minor criminals without doing anything to prevent crime.

Prosecutors often agree to knock a first-time offender’s felony larceny charge down to a misdemeanor when the stolen items are worth less than $1,000, but that depends largely on where the person is arrested, since prosecutors have wide discretion, said Michael Sprano, a northern Virginia attorney who works those cases.

Some prosecutors will only reduce a felony shoplifting charge to a misdemeanor if the accused agrees to serve jail time, Sprano said. And because judges don’t typically give jail time for first-time felony offenses, some defendants must decide whether to take a felony and go home, or get a misdemeanor and serve in jail.

“I had a client once who chose the felony instead of doing a month in jail because if he did the month in jail, he would’ve lost his job and his apartment and his family was depending on him,” Sprano said.

It is unclear how many Virginians are being locked up for stealing low-priced items. A study by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission in 2016 found that in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, nearly 850 people were convicted of felony larceny who would have received a misdemeanor had the state’s threshold been $500.

Of those, 430 people were given probation or no incarceration, about 340 served jail time and nearly 80 were sent to prison, with a median sentence of more than a year. Meanwhile, they joined the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who’ve been disenfranchised due to felonies and must have their voting rights restored by the governor.

Virginia retailers say the shoplifters in their stores aren’t people who make just one bad decision. They’re often part of organized retail crime rings and are well aware of the state’s larceny threshold, said Kate Baker, a lobbyist for the Virginia Retail Federation.

If the threshold is “raised to $500 or $1,000, they’re going to steal up to $499 or $999 and retailers are going to eat that,” said Lori Janke, who owns three resale clothing stores.

Janke said she’s had eight significant shoplifting incidents at her stores over the last six years. None involved first-time offenders and most ended up with misdemeanor convictions, she said.

California retailers reported a surge in shoplifting after the state ended the possibility of charging people who steal anything below $950 with a felony in 2014. Large retailers including Safeway, Target, Rite Aid and CVS pharmacies said last year that shoplifting had increased at least 15 percent while shoplifting reports to the Los Angeles Police Department jumped by a quarter in the law’s first year.

But a report by the Pew Research Center last year found no effect on property crimes or larceny rates in 23 states that raised their thresholds between 2001 and 2011. The report found that crime decreased in those states by essentially the same amount as in states that didn’t change theft laws.

____

Follow Alanna Durkin Richer at http://twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer .

Home » More News » Virginia is for felonies? Petty theft law from 1980s sticks


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Landmark same-sex marriage bill wins Senate passage
Nation
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate passed ... WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Senate passed bipartisan legislation Tuesday to protect same-sex marriages, an extraordinary sign of shifting national politics on the issue and ...
2
Pulisic goal advances US in World Cup with 1-0 ...
Nation
DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- Christian Pulisic ... DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- Christian Pulisic kicked the ball, scored the goal and crashed into the goalkeeper, a collision that sent the American star ...
3
Mother grieves loss of teenage daughter killed in hit-and-run
ABQnews Seeker
Vehicular homicide, aggravated DWI charges filed Vehicular homicide, aggravated DWI charges filed
4
Police say he shot at their drone. Soon after, ...
ABQnews Seeker
Detectives arrested an Albuquerque man who ... Detectives arrested an Albuquerque man who allegedly first shot at a police drone and then shot at officers that had followed him for several ...
5
End of the line: Why some New Mexicans may ...
ABQnews Seeker
NM Medicaid enrollees warned: Yearly requalifications ... NM Medicaid enrollees warned: Yearly requalifications on horizon again
6
Nursing home found negligent in resident's choking death after ...
ABQnews Seeker
Jury awards more than $750,000 in ... Jury awards more than $750,000 in damages
7
Judge, pets killed by husband in murder-suicide
ABQnews Seeker
Diane Albert, resident of Los Ranchos, ... Diane Albert, resident of Los Ranchos, mourned by officials and friends
8
Legislation aims to add protections for renters
ABQnews Seeker
Councilor says new bill would regulate ... Councilor says new bill would regulate fees, provide information up front
9
ABQ man sentenced in fatal shooting of unborn baby
ABQnews Seeker
Mother, 17, is now unable to ... Mother, 17, is now unable to have children due to her injuries
10
CYFD facing familiar issues, despite changes and a budget ...
ABQnews Seeker
Some 86% of the nearly 1,900 ... Some 86% of the nearly 1,900 children in the agency's custody now placed in foster homes, other settings