Shoplifting is one of the most common criminal offenses across the country. Taking something from a store without paying for it could be done out of necessity, to impress friends, or as part of a criminal enterprise. Shoplifting may also be committed by employees who find it easier to take something without anyone knowing.

Unfortunately, innocent people can be charged with shoplifting because of a mistake, misunderstanding, or forgetting about an item in their bag. The prosecution may rely on threats of jail time to get the defendant to plead guilty, even if they never committed a crime. If you are accused of shoplifting, talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help before agreeing to a plea bargain.

What Is Shoplifting?

Shoplifting involves stealing goods or merchandise from a store without paying the full price. Even if you don’t leave the store, attempting to conceal merchandise or changing the price tag might be considered shoplifting. Taking a shopping basket from the store might also be considered shoplifting. Some common examples of shoplifting include:

  • Eating a candy bar in a convenience store without paying for it
  • Putting sunglasses in a friend’s bag without them knowing
  • Hiding a video game in a store trash can to retrieve from the garbage later
  • Changing the price tag on a dress to pay a lower price

Some people consider shoplifting to be a relatively minor offense. Large retailers expect a certain amount of loss to shoplifting, and it often happens without anyone facing threats of harm. However, even taking items of small value can lead to criminal charges, if the store owner wants to press charges and the prosecutor wants to set an example. In some cases, if you allegedly shoplifted multiple items over time, the value of the stolen items can be added up to increase the charge to a felony.

Retail Theft by Employees

A lot of retail theft is committed by employees. Clothing stores and retail stores may have a lot of security systems in place, like security guards, electronic door alarms, and security tags. However, employees may find ways to get around these safeguards. Shoplifting by employees could involve:

  • Putting items in their bag when going home
  • Tagging the wrong price on an item for a friend to buy
  • Marking an item as damaged and keeping it

Employees often try to justify taking things from the store. This may be to get back at the owner for mistreatment or because the employee thinks they are underpaid. Even if you have a real grievance, the police will consider taking something without paying for it to be theft.

Criminal Penalties for Shoplifting

The criminal penalties for shoplifting depend on the individual circumstances. Shoplifting things valued at below a certain amount is generally treated as petty theft or petty larceny. If the items have a value over a certain amount, a shoplifting charge may be elevated to grand theft.

Theft of property below a certain value is generally charged as a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor shoplifting conviction could result in jail time of up to a year, a fine, and a criminal record.

Shoplifting items over the petty theft limit could result in felony criminal charges. As a felony, a grand theft conviction could mean more than one year in prison and a more expensive fine. There are further consequences of a felony conviction that follow even after the defendant served their time. Felons may find it harder to get a job or find housing, and they may be unable to ever own a firearm or vote in an election again.

Civil Penalties

There may also be civil shoplifting penalties. A civil lawsuit allows the property owner or retailer to sue you for the value of the property that you allegedly took. You may be liable for the cost to replace or recover the item and additional damages. Also, the burden of proof is lower in a civil case than in a criminal case. This means that even if you are found not guilty in a criminal court, you could still be liable for paying damages to the store owner.

Defense Strategies for Shoplifting Charges

Your criminal defense attorney may have a number of legal strategies to use to defend you against criminal charges. During a consultation with your defense lawyer, you may be able to get a good picture of the best theft defenses available in your case. Some common shoplifting defenses include:

  • That you had no intent to steal the goods
  • Someone else placed the item in your bag
  • There is no evidence of theft
  • You are the victim of mistaken identity
  • You intended to pay for the item

In many situations, the police and prosecutor make the defendant feel like they have no choice but to accept a plea deal, even if they did nothing wrong. Before you agree to plead guilty to any crime, make sure you get a chance to talk to your criminal defense lawyer for advice.

Speak to an Experienced Shoplifting Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified shoplifting lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local shoplifting attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

Your Next Step:

Enter your location below to get connected with a qualified Shoplifting attorney today.

Related Topics In This Section