Local authorities are opposed to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s bid to increase the threshold for felony larceny.
“I am totally against” raising the larceny threshold, Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said.
McAuliffe proposed increasing the felony larceny threshold from the current $200 to $500 as part of his legislative package. Currently, larceny of items valued at less than $200 may result in a misdemeanor charge; larcenies of items valued at more than $200 may be considered a felony.
A release from McAuliffe’s office stated that Virginia’s felony larceny threshold was set in 1980, and currently is the lowest in the United States.
The current threshold “has been that amount for decades and I think it needs to stay at $200,” Smith said. “Larceny affects more people in this county than any other crime. I think when we raise the limit we’re sending a message that larcenies are not a serious offense. They are serious and should be considered as such,” he said.
“I think it should be left in the hands of the prosecutor and crime victim to make any reduction” in the charge, Smith said.
“To our rural community, a $200 loss can be a lot for our citizens and small businesses to bear, Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman said. “I’m hesitant to be completely supportive of it.”
While the $200 threshold “may not be that much for larger jurisdictions and metropolitan areas,” Vipperman said depending on the circumstances, “it can be devastating to my victims. I currently try to exercise fair discretion on a case-by-case basis where the value involved is less than $500.”
Smith declined to take a position on McAuliffe’s proposal to reduce or eliminate the practice of suspending driver’s licenses of offenders who either cannot afford to pay court costs or those who committed non-driving offenses.
A release from McAuliffe’s office states that nearly 650,000 Virginians currently have suspended driver’s licenses because they cannot afford to pay legal fees and court costs. An additional 200,000 lost their licenses due to offenses unrelated to driving.
“For many, personal vehicles are the only travel option to their job, and their driver license suspension prevents them from employment, and ultimately from paying their court costs and building a more productive life,” the release stated.
Vipperman said she does not support eliminating suspension of licenses. However, she understands the argument behind the proposal, “and the vicious cycle in which some indigent defendants find themselves.”
As a result, she works with defendants to give them extended time to reinstate their licenses. Judges and clerks “also are good to help defendants set up payments plans and file motions for restricted licenses,” as well as help defendants understand what is needed to reinstate their licenses, she said.
“The criminal justice system in our county recognizes the need for a driver’s license and is very willing to help those who ask and show some effort,” Vipperman said.
However, “the threat of losing one’s driver’s license can be the right incentive to get defendants to pay their restitution, fines and court costs,” she said of fees that are revenue to the county and state.