Caught shoplifting will I be charged with a crime?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I was at Target last week and I stole about $100 worth of merchandize. I was stopped on the way out by security. The police were called and I was arrested. I am wondering what will happen to me if I am charged with shoplifting?”

Although some people assume shoplifting is not a serious crime, the cost to the American public each year is an astounding 33.21 billion dollars! And unfortunately, businesses have to raise prices and charge other shoppers to recover their losses.

Whether or not you will be charged with a crime and the severity of the penalties will be determined by a variety of factors.

Definition of shoplifting

Shoplifting can include a variety of illegal or fraudulent actions including stealing merchandise from a store. More broadly, however, it can also include the intent to steal, which might include hiding the merchandise in your purse or under your clothing, or altering the price of an item (i.e., switching the tags, removing tags, destroying the theft prevention device, or writing a different price on the price tag). Additionally, other fraudulent actions such as attempting to return items which were not purchased can also constitute shoplifting.

What will my charges be for shoplifting?

Shoplifting charges can range from minor criminal infractions to felonies. Many states, however, will charge all shoplifters with at least a misdemeanor. Charges will vary by state and could be more severe if the item or items stolen were expensive (i.e., over$100) or if you have been charged with multiple shoplifting charges.

Note, however, that even if you are not charged with a crime, you may be sued by the owner of the store in civil court. Civil court proceeding are likely if your actions damage or cause loss to the store owner. In some case, if you are a minor, your parents could also be held legally liable if you shoplifted and damaged property or goods.

Misconceptions about shoplifting charges

Unfortunately, some shoppers seem to believe that shoplifting is a minor crime often engaging in it just for fun or for the challenge of seeing what they can get away with. Before you consider shoplifting, however, it’s important to understand the following:

  • You will not get avoid shoplifting charges or penalties just be paying for the item you stole.
  • You do not have to actually leave the store to be charged with shoplifting. The state will also consider whether you had the intent to steal.
  • Buying another item in the process of stealing does not eliminate a shoplifting charge.
  • If you help someone else shoplift you can still be charged with a crime.
  • Shoplifting is never justified even if the item is overprices.
  • You can go to jail for shoplifting.
  • Shoplifting is NOT a victimless crime.

What will happen if I am charged with shoplifting?

Not only is a shoplifting conviction embarrassing leading to a potential loss of your reputation, as with any criminal charge and conviction, a shoplifting conviction will become a part of your criminal record. Other consequences shoplifting can include:

  • Mandatory reimbursement of the costs of goods to the store owner.
  • Payment for attorney’s fees and court costs.
  • Potential payment for additional loss suffered by the owner. State laws determine the amount paid but it could be as high as two or three times the total value of the stolen product.
  • Potential criminal penalties including fines, jail time or probation

If I consistently shoplift do I have a problem?

The reasons and motivations for shoplifting vary. Some individuals suffer from a mental disorder such as depression and suffers from kleptomania, a strong impulse disorder which drives someone to shoplift. Other shoppers are simply trying to game the system or need the money to sustain an alcohol or drug addiction.

Regardless of the reason why you committed the crime, it’s important to get help, especially if this is a constant behavior or impulse that you seemingly cannot control. The last thing you want is to ruin your life and go to jail shoplifting.

Bottom Line:

What starts out as a harmless youthful indiscretion could turn into a life of crime. Talk to a criminal defense lawyer and make this first shoplifting charge your last.


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