As of July 1, 2018, the new felony theft threshold in Virginia now stands at $500. The move was made by the General Assembly and was a bipartisan agreement in which both sides of the aisle agreed was something that needed to be done after seeing no change in the felony theft law for 40 years.
For years Virginia was tied with New Jersey as having the lowest felony threshold in the country, at just $200. That means that someone who simply stole a certain pair of shoes, or certain pair of jeans, could have a felony on their permanent criminal record. That could prevent them from gaining employment, housing, and other employment opportunities. While misdemeanors still appear on permanent records, they are not the same types of roadblocks as felonies are.
A felony theft conviction can also result in up to 20 years in jail. That means that in the past, people could potentially spend a good portion of the rest of their lives in jail for theft that was a very small amount.
It was a very low threshold that impacted many people. In a 2016 study conducted by the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, 850 people were charged with felony theft in the years 2012 and 2013 for what would now be considered a misdemeanor. 80 of those people were sent to prison while 340 served jail time.
“Frankly, it is about time that legislators have made this decision,” says Nicholas Braswell of Richmond Defense Group. “Inflation aside, which was a big argument for increasing the threshold, no one deserves to do such hard time for something that is really quite minor.”
There are some, such as Deputy Public Defender Duane Barron, who continue to advocate for the threshold to be increased even higher. Barron would like to see the threshold placed at $1,000 for felony theft.
However, the increase will likely see less negotiation available between prosecutors and defense attorneys. David Ledbetter, the Waynesboro Commonwealth Attorney, said that while he was not against the change in the law, it is going to make it more difficult to reduce felony charges to a misdemeanor. While in the past theft constituting $300 would likely be reduced, he says he will be less likely to reduce a $600 theft to a misdemeanor in the future.