Shoplifting is intentionally taking merchandise from a store or retail shop without permission and without paying for the items. The person must intend to permanently depriving the business of its merchandise. Many items can be targeted for shoplifting, some more than others; some items that are commonly shoplifted may include:
• Baby items;
• Electronic devices, especially smart phones and laptops;
• Food items, especially meats;
• Alcoholic beverages;
• Cosmetics; and/or
Generally speaking, many shoplifters target small, more expensive items that can easily fit in a pocket or a purse. Some shoplifting efforts may involve more than one actor, with one person acting as a distraction while the other conducts the shoplifting. A person can be charged with either misdemeanor or felony shoplifting. Whether a shoplifting charge is a form of felony theft depends on state law. A shoplifting charge may be listed under petty theft or another type of larceny.
States typically decide if shoplifting is a felony according to merchandise value. In order to be classified as felony shoplifting, the stolen property must often exceed a minimum price. The specific value depends on state law. Generally, a felony shoplifting charge involves monetary amounts ranging from $500 to $1,000. Thus, an individual who is charged with taking $100 of merchandise will likely be charged with misdemeanor shoplifting. Another person charged with take $501 worth of merchandise will likely be charged with felony shoplifting. Shoplifting certain items can result in felony shoplifting charges, regardless of the value of the property that was stolen. This is referred to as a categorical felony. The value of the merchandise that was taken does not matter when it includes:
• Firearms; and/or
• Incendiary devices.
Thus, if a person shoplifts even a relatively inexpensive firearm, they may be charged with felony shoplifting. The penalties can be even more severe if the person has prior felonies on their record (some persons who are convicted of a felon may not be allowed to possess a firearm). Also, in some states, the types of items taken and value of the stolen property do no matter if a person has a prior criminal history. For example, some states increase a shoplifting charge to a felony if the person has been convicted of two or more theft offenses. Also, stealing any explosive or devices that can be used to create explosives can become a federal issue. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) monitors any sales, transportation, possession, and any stolen goods that can be used for bomb making. This can include obvious things like plastic explosives to less obvious, like ammonium nitrate which is often used in fertilizer (as well as in bomb making). Stealing any of the items monitored by the ATF can turn a simple issue of shoplifting into a question of terrorism.
Misdemeanor Charge and Felony Charge
Misdemeanor charges are usually less serious than felony charges. The main difference between the two lies mostly in the way that they are punished. Misdemeanor charges often involve a sentence of up to one year maximum in a jail facility. They may also involve criminal fines as well (usually up to $500 maximum). The amount of the fine typically depends on the amount of property that was stolen.
In comparison, felony charges are typically punishable by sentences of longer than one year in a prison facility (not a county jail facility). They may also involve criminal fines as well, which will be higher than those for criminal misdemeanor charges. For a felony shoplifting charge, the criminal consequences can typically involve several years in prison, as well as thousands of dollars in criminal fines. Some crimes may be classified as wobblers. This means that they can either be considered as a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge, depending on the circumstances of the case as well as the judge’s discretion. Some states also have degrees of shoplifting felonies, which indicate levels of seriousness of the crime. Felony degrees may range from one to five, with fifth-degree felony being the most serious. In fact, approximately 90% of the population has shoplifted in their lifetime.
These days, it’s a lot easier to get caught than it was 20 years ago. With the installation of cameras all throughout retail stores. It’s pretty difficult to get away with it. Statistically, adolescents are the biggest shoplifters, accounting for nearly 50% of all shoplifters. However, they only steal one-third as much as their adult counterparts. Adults are more creative and ingenious when it comes to shoplifting. Thieves have been commonly known to hide merchandise inside coats or bulky clothing. Women have gone so far as to feign a pregnancy so they could hide merchandise inside maternity clothing. People commonly hide stolen goods inside purses, backpacks and other shopping bags. In fact, people have been known to hollow out books and stuff merchandise into a fake cast. Although some shoplifters are career criminals, others steal out of desperation. Many of them steal necessary items such as food or items for their children. They are put in a situation where they have to decide between going without a necessity and taking a risk.
These risks can have grave criminal consequences when the people are eventually caught in the act. How a person is charged in a shoplifting offense depends upon the value of the items stolen. If the value of the goods was less than $400, it will be charged as misdemeanor petty theft, which is punishable by up to six months in jail and fines ranging from $50 to $1000. Where the value of the property stolen was worth more than $400 the person will be charged with grand theft, which can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. The decision will be ultimately left up to the prosecution as how to charge you. This is normally dependent upon any past convictions on your criminal record. The penalty for grand theft can be up to one full year in jail or state prison; a large price to pay, especially if you had a momentary lapse in judgment. The best scenario is to be charged with an infraction. An infraction is less serious than a misdemeanor and the penalty for infraction petty theft is less than $250. Infraction petty theft is applied to theft cases involving merchandise valued below $50. If you were arrested for shoplifting, your best defense is to hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The last thing you want is to have to spend a number of months in jail over a mistake. Any type of conviction will result in a permanent criminal record which will haunt you for the rest of your life. Getting caught shoplifting is not only an embarrassing experience, it can have significant consequences. The laws of many states issue hefty fines and even jail time for certain shoplifting offenses, and Texas law is no exception.
In Utah, shoplifting offenses fall under the general definition of “theft” in the Texas Penal Code. In addition, shielding or deactivating instruments used for shoplifting are also expressly prohibited under state law. The nature of a shoplifting charge and the associated penalty will depend on a couple of factors, including the value of the property stolen, and whether you have previously been convicted of any type of theft.
The definition of “theft” under the Utah Crimianl Code includes a variety of offenses, including shoplifting.
Theft is defined as the unlawful appropriation of property with the intent to deprive the owner of the property. It’s also a crime to possess, manufacture, or distribute shielding or deactivating instruments used for shoplifting.
• Shoplifting property valued at less than 100 is a Class C misdemeanor.
• Shoplifting property valued at $100 or more but less than $750 is a Class B misdemeanor.
• If you have been previously convicted of any grade of theft, shoplifting will be a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the property stolen is less than $100.
• Shoplifting property valued at $750 or more but less than $2,500 is a Class A misdemeanor.
• Possession, manufacture, or distribution of a shielding or deactivating instrument is a Class A misdemeanor.
• Shoplifting property valued at $2,500 or more but less than $30,000 is a state jail felony.
• You will also be charged with a state jail felony if you have two or more prior convictions for theft, and the value of the property stolen is less than $2,500.
• Shoplifting property valued at $30,000 or more but less than $150,000 is a felony in the third degree.
• Shoplifting property valued at $150,000 or more but less than $300,000 is a felony in the second degree.
• Shoplifting property valued at more than $300,000 is a felony in the first degree.
• Class C misdemeanor – fine of up to $500.
• Class B misdemeanor – fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.
• Class A misdemeanor – fine of up to $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
• State jail felony – fine of up to $10,000 and between 180 days and two years in jail.
• Third degree felony – fine of up to $10,000 and between 2 and 10 years’ imprisonment.
• Second degree felony – fine of up to $10,000 and between 2 and 20 years’ imprisonment.
• First degree felony – fine of up to $10,000 and between 5 and 99 years’ imprisonment.
State regulations are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching. A shoplifting charge may seem like a mere annoyance, but in the state of Texas it can have significant repercussions. If you have been arrested for shoplifting, it’s important for you to understand your legal rights.
Adult shoplifters can be sued by the merchants they victimized for actual damages, plus additional damages up to $1,000. Parents or guardians who have a duty of control and discipline over a child shoplifter can be sued for actual damages up to $5,000.
Pretrial Diversion Programs and Plea Bargaining
Some counties provide pretrial diversion programs, which allow certain individuals accused of first-time and low-level crimes to avoid criminal prosecution. Diversion programs typically require completion of a probationary period and other court-mandated requirements, such as restitution, community service, and counseling. Upon successful completion of the requirements, the criminal charges will be dropped. If diversion programs are not available, the accused may be able to arrange a plea bargain with the prosecutor assigned to the case. The prosecutor may be willing to reduce the charges or the sentence, in exchange for a plea of guilty.
How to Get Shoplifting Charges Dropped
There are a few ways to possibly have your shoplifting charges dropped. When you are arrested, the prosecutor may file criminal charges if they believe they have enough evidence to support a conviction. If during a preliminary hearing a judge decides there is sufficient evidence to support a conviction, the case will be allowed to proceed. It is important not to confuse dropped charges with dismissed charges. Your charges can be dropped before they are filed or after they are filed. However, your charges can only be dismissed after they are filed. If your case is allowed to proceed, the offense may be dropped if the victim asks the prosecutor to drop the charges. The lack of cooperation by a victim may mean that the prosecution does not have enough evidence to convict you of shoplifting. However, even if a retail store did request that the prosecutor drop the case, the discretion to drop the case lies with the prosecutor. Additionally, under certain circumstances, the arresting officer may have the discretion to drop the charges.
There are several reasons why a shoplifting charge may be dropped:
• The evidence needed to build the case is flimsy
• Eyewitness accounts conflict with the evidence
• Necessary evidence was illegally secured without a warrant
• Your constitutional rights were violated (e.g., the police coerced you into a confession after you asked for an attorney)
This is not an exclusive list, and there are other variables that a prosecutor may consider before dropping charges. A plea bargain is another way that your offense may be dropped or reduced. A plea bargain is when an offender and a prosecutor agree to reduce or drop charges in exchange for the offender pleading guilty to a certain offense. Typically, the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser crime than the one they committed. For example, pleading guilty to misdemeanor theft instead of felony theft may be an option in severe cases.
Work with a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney to Negotiate Dropping Your
If you or a family member was arrested for shoplifting, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Here are the top things you should do if you find yourself facing a charge of retail theft:
• Do not flee store security: Most times, the police are not involved in an initial arrest for shoplifting. Instead, the defendant is likely to first be confronted by unarmed private security officers. If one is guilty of shoplifting and is confronted by store security, there is a strong temptation to resist or to flee. This is a mistake. Firstly, if the detention is illegal, you have the right to challenge it in court. However, if you resist or run from the private security officers, this is strong evidence of guilt. Also, this sort of dangerous uncooperativeness makes an informal resolution of the case much more unlikely.
• Do not make custodial statements to police: Once you are turned over to police, you will feel compelled to offer an innocent explanation for this big mistake. In almost every case, what the defendant thinks is an innocent explanation will turn out to be an admission of guilt. As set forth above, retail theft is committed in a number of ways. Thus, do not talk your way into a conviction. If the police attempt to question you, simply invoke your right to counsel. Once you do so, the law requires that all police questioning cease.
• Hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer: As should be clear from the penalty structure set forth above, a charge of retail theft can be a serious criminal offense. You should be represented by counsel, and it should not be your general practice family lawyer. Given the potential consequences, you need to be represented by a criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with pretrial motions challenging the legality of the dention and other matters.
• Make restitution: Many times if a person is arrested for shoplifting, this means that he or she did not get away with the merchandise. Under those circumstances, there may not be any restitution due; however, if the police tell you that the merchant is seeking restitution, you should make restitution immediately.
• Make sure that you appear in court: Obviously, if the charge is criminal in nature, you must appear in court because if you fail to do so the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest. If you decide to plead guilty, make sure that your lawyer requests that the judge consider expunction if you successfully complete your sentence. If the charge is a municipal ordinance violation, you are not required to appear in court, but if you fail to do so, the judge will find you guilty by default. This, too, is a mistake. Many times, especially in municipal court, the prosecutor will offer the defendant deferred prosecution agreements which may allow you to avoid a conviction altogether.
Shoplifting Attorney In Utah Free Consultation
When you need to defend against a shoplifting charge in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506
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