Steve Duckett is a criminal defense attorney in Manassas, Virginia, with Price Benowitz LLP. Steve defends clients in Virginia and federal court, and his practice includes white collar defense, felony allegations, and DUI cases.
Inflation not only affects your wallet, it can also affect your criminal record in the state of Virginia. That is because – unlike 30 other states across the country – Virginia lawmakers refuse to increase the dollar minimum for felony charges.
Virginia has held to the same felony bar amount of $200 since 1980. Two hundred dollars in 1980 is equal to $600 today. If you are accused of stealing an item that is worth more than $200, you could be facing felony charges.
Compare that to dozens of states which have raised their felony bar amounts, and Virginia’s law appears to be extremely harsh. For example, more than 35 states have a felony bar of $1000 or more. Texas and Wisconsin have their felony bar amount set at $2,500.
Yet in Virginia, if a young person makes a one-time error in judgment – often the case in low dollar amount theft cases – they could end up with a felony charge on their record which could affect them for the rest of their lives.
Attempts to raise the amount to $500 last month was blocked by the Virginia House after it passed overwhelmingly by the Senate. Representatives faced great pressure from retail groups who questioned why lawmakers were trying – in their opinion – to make it easier for people to steal.
First-time offenders are often left facing a tough dilemma because although many prosecutors will agree to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor if the amount stolen is under $1,000, they often insist that the defendant has to do some jail time. Yet most judges do not sentence first-time felony offenders any jail time.
So, a person charged is forced to decide whether or not to do jail time and have a misdemeanor on their record or do no jail time, but have a felony conviction on their record, which can have a serious impact on a person’s future chance of employment, housing, education, and government benefits.
In discussing the state’s felony bar amount, defense attorney Steve Duckett said, “Charging a person who makes a one-time mistake and steals an item the same charge as a person involved in a shoplifting ring that steals thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise is archaic and unjust. It is time Virginia lawmakers take the appropriate steps to address this problem.”