Shoplifting is the act of taking or concealing items with the intent of not paying for them. It is also referred to as retail theft or concealment of merchandise.

Examples of shoplifting offenses:

  • Secreting goods (hiding goods in your purse, pocket or backpack with the intention of not paying for them)
  • Manipulating merchandise
  • Removing packaging or repackaging to avoid paying
  • Removing security tags
  • Manipulating price tags

Shoplifting laws

Shoplifting is a criminal offense under theft law. For a long time, the practice was treated like any other larceny case. However, with time, the practice became rampant and many states outlined specific shoplifting laws. These laws outline the terms of treating shoplifters, how retail owners should act in the event of shoplifting, elements of a shoplifting charge and penalties for shoplifting.

Elements of shoplifting

  • Intentionally hiding or taking items meant for sale
  • Intent to not pay for the items

Shoplifting Charges

The severity of a shoplifting charge depends on value of goods, state laws and criminal records of the shoplifter. As such, a charge can be an infraction, felony or misdemeanor. Misdemeanors and infractions essentially attract fines, probation deferral, restitution or probation programs. On the other hand, felonies get larger fines and jail terms.

Retailers are legally allowed to detain a shoplifting suspect. However, there are stipulations outlined by the law on detention of shoplifters. This is meant to protect both the retailers and the suspect. Retailers must adhere to lawful detention procedures as well as questioning procedures. Use of force is not allowed under any circumstances. They must also have a probable cause or evidence for detention. The law also protects retailers against civil rights charges for detaining a suspected shoplifter.

Retail Theft

Accused of shoplifting

An accusation can be made whether you are guilty or not. In either case, it is important to limit conversation with police or retailer and contact your defense lawyer. Otherwise, taking matters in your own hands could end up worsening the case.

Caught Concealing Merchandise

Below are five things to do if caught concealing merchandise:

  1. Do not leave the store. Naturally, if guilty, one is tempted to flee. This may be deemed as evidence or will eliminate any chances of negotiating for an informal settlement of the retailers
  2. Do not talk to the police or security. You may end up pleading guilty.
  3. Contact and hire a criminal defense lawyer. They will provide counsel on the best way to handle the situation.
  4. Seek restitution.
  5. Attend all court sessions - failure to may lead to the court serving you with an arrest warrant.
Shoplifting Laws

Charged with Shoplifting

Once accused of shoplifting, the wise thing to do is to seek an informal settlement with the retailer. If the retailer goes ahead to sue, the last option is pleading guilty. Although defending against court charges is cumbersome, it is great option to getting a favorable sentence.

The prosecution has to prove that the accused is guilty and that the case meets all the elements. The question of intent of not paying is a tough one to prove. One can use the following defenses:

  • Lack of witness
  • Mishandling of evidence by the retailers
  • Inflated value of stolen goods

Otherwise, one can plea bargain or negotiate for a deferral or diversion programs.

Contact Zappich&Liller

It can be embarrassing and shameful to be caught shoplifting. That notwithstanding, there is a favorable way to deal with it. Zappich&Liller criminal defense attorneys are committed to ensuring protection of your rights and a favorable outcome. Contact us if charged with or accused of shoplifting.

Criminal Offense