An Open Letter to Shoplifters

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(And those who may be thinking about doing it)


By Nathan Lyons, Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney; and Douglas Vaught, Grayson County Commonwealth’s Attorney and Galax City Attorney

Editor’s note: Commonwealth’s attorneys serving Galax, Carroll and Grayson submitted this letter to The Gazette as concerted effort to educate people, especially the younger members of the community, about the serious ramifications of shoplifting — a crime that has become rampant in the area. The prosecutors said they see the devastation that a charge and conviction can cause to an individual and families.

There are many ways to describe shoplifting, and just as many excuses to try and explain it once it happens. But, the simple truth is: SHOPLIFTING IS STEALING. No more, no less.

In our society, stealing is bad behavior. By law, it is a crime of “moral turpitude,” which is a fancy way of saying “this person has proven untrustworthy, has violated a basis code of society (not to lie, cheat or steal) and anyone is justified in considering that each time they tell something they pass for the truth.”

Crimes of “moral turpitude” follow a person for life. Once convicted, forever branded. You cannot get a conviction for shoplifting expunged from your record. It goes with you the rest of your life. It will raise its ugly head if you are trying to get into college, trying to get a job, get a license for a profession, or if you are ever called as a witness in a trial.

It can even be something that could keep you from dating or marrying the person of your dreams if they do an online search and find out they can’t believe you, based on your conviction record.

And then there’s the embarrassment you face when you get caught. And, you will most likely get caught because the merchants know what to look for, and they have video surveillance that can help catch and prosecute you. You can have an escort out of the store in front of everyone there, maybe in handcuffs, in custody of the police.

Having to make that phone call home or to your friends is a terrible, embarrassing price to pay. Having to face everyone, from now on, knowing that you have let them down, is not worth the short-term gain.

Now for the really bad news: PUNISHMENT. Shoplifting is considered larceny. Petit larceny is stealing property less than $200 in value, and is punishable by up to 12 months in jail, plus a fine of up to $2,500. Grand larceny is stealing property valued at more than $200, and is punishable by up to 20 years in jail or prison, plus a fine up to $2,500.

We prosecute these cases in Carroll County and Grayson County, and jointly in the City of Galax. We take those cases seriously. You will be prosecuted for larceny, and only if prosecuting you for something else you are doing is a more appropriate charge will we consider amending a larceny charge. It will not matter who your parents or children are. It will not matter where you go to church, where you plan to go to college or get a job, where you volunteer or what your health limitations are.

We are seeking substantial fines ($500 or more) and active jail sentences, with a long period of probation and good behavior in these cases. Why? Because you are not just stealing from the merchant who operates the store, you are stealing from everyone else in the community who shops there, because your actions cause the cost of goods to increase for every other law-abiding shopper.

Think about this before you take a path than can impact your life forever, before you violate the trust of your parents, friends and family. If you do stop and think, shoplifting will likely be the one most important thing in your life that you never do.