Carter v. Commonwealth

The Facts

The defendant was involved with his friend in the scheme to steal the store’s paint. After asserting ownership of the paint, he together with another accomplice planned to relinquish the paint upon receiving payment from the store, without removing the paint from the store.

Procedural History

The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the conviction.


In Virginia, larceny is a common law crime and defined as the wrongful or fraudulent taking of personal goods of some intrinsic value, belonging to other person, without his consent, and with the intention to deprive the owner thereof permanently. In order to evaluate the act as larceny there must be a taking and asportation of the seized goods, coupled with malicious intent to steal property. The criminal intent to steal must exist at the time the seized goods are moved. Hence, larceny is conditioned by a trespassory taking which is a removal of possession of property from the owner in violation of his/her possessory right.

The Issue

Whether the evidence that the defendant intended to deprive the owner of the property proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Holding/Reasoning

The Supreme Court of Virginia reasoned in following way: “Because every customer in a self-service store has implied permission to move merchandise, placed on open display, unconcealed about the premises of the store, the trespassory taking and carrying away of the merchandise of another does not usually occur at such a store when the property is moved on the premises. If, however, there is some conduct by the customer which makes the customer’s possession clearly adverse to the store, there is a trespassory taking.”

It was accepted that the defendant acted in a manner inconsistent with that of a prospective purchaser, and exercised immediate dominion and control over the property, despite his continued presence within the owner’s store. In accordance with court’s opinion such conduct establishes sufficient possession to constitute larceny. Thus, the state’s highest court acknowledged the evidence inferred from the facts and circumstances of the case, including the actions of the accused and any statements made by the defendant.

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