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Is Shoplifting a Felony?

Is Shoplifting a Felony?

Shoplifting is intentionally taking merchandise from a store or retail shop without permission and without paying for the items. Many items can be targeted for shoplifting, these are:

• Clothing;

• Baby items;

• Electronic devices, especially smart phones and laptops;

• Food items

• Alcoholic beverages

• Cosmetics

• Medications.

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:

• Explosives;

• Firearms

• 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 not 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.

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. 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 theft. 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.

Shoplifting charges can be serious and can result in felony consequences. In certain situations, a local criminal attorney can negotiate with a prosecutor to have the shoplifting charge reduced to a misdemeanor or dismissed. Adult shoplifters can be sued by victimized merchants for actual damages, a penalty in the amount of the retail price (up to $1,000), a penalty between $100 and $500, court costs, and reasonable attorney fees. Parents or guardians of minor shoplifters are jointly liable with the minor for actual damages, a penalty in the amount of the retail price (up to $500), a penalty between $50 and $500, court costs, and reasonable attorney fees.

Prosecutors can offer alternatives to prosecution, such as diversion programs and plea bargains. These alternatives are often offered in the case of first-time or low-level thefts. If a shoplifter successfully completes a diversion program, which typically includes community service and counseling, the criminal charges may be dropped by the prosecutors. An accused shoplifter may also be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor. In a typical plea bargain, the accused accepts a lesser charge in exchange for an admission of guilt.

Consequences of Shoplifting in Utah

The criminal part is where the attorney tries to prove that you committed the crime of Retail Theft. The seriousness of the charge depends on the value of what you are alleged to have stolen (and on prior offenses) ranging from Misdemeanor B up to a Second Degree Felony. A conviction for a minor theft offense probably will not result in any jail time. A more likely sentence includes a fine, a required class, maybe probation, and paying back the value of the item.

Perhaps the worst part of a theft conviction is the record of that conviction. Theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude which can affect future employment, security clearances, professional licenses, or even school prospects. To remove a conviction from your record requires an expungement, but getting an expungement requires several years of waiting. However, if the charges are dismissed, there is no conviction, and the record of your arrest and court case can be expunged in 30 days. For that reason alone, it is important to try and get your charges dismissed, even if the other aspects of the sentence don’t seem too bad.

Fighting Shoplifting Charges

The first thing you should not do if you are caught shoplifting is to struggle to get away. If a clerk or other store employee approaches you, do not push them out of your way. Do not struggle against them if they attempt to detain you. This can turn a minor misdemeanor retail theft charge into a serious felony robbery case. In Utah , “any merchant who has probable cause to believe that a person has committed retail theft may detain such person, on or off the premises of a retail mercantile establishment, in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time.” If you use force against a store employee or other person either during the course of committing a retail theft, or while attempting to flee after committing a retail theft, you may be charged with robbery. Robbery begins as a second degree felony punishable by 1-15 years in prison. Under some circumstances, you could be charged with aggravated robbery with the potential for life in prison.

If you are detained on suspicion of shoplifting, while you should not physically resist, you are in no way required to make any statements. You have a Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and a right to remain silent. You are under no legal obligation to make any statement or to offer any explanation for your actions. And your case will generally be better if you exercise your right to remain silent. You will have a chance to tell your side of the story. But you are generally better off if you wait to get advice from a lawyer before you talk.

How to Prevent and Handle Shoplifting

1. Know Your Times: Did you know that certain times of day are more common than others for shoplifting? Wednesday through Saturday are the most popular days for shoplifters, especially in the afternoon and on weekends. Summers and holidays are often high-alert times for theft as well.

• Avoid Profiling: There are many stereotypes related to types of shoplifters, targeting both race and gender. However, majority of shoplifters are middle-aged and gainfully employed. As such, it’s essential to treat all shoppers with the same levels of trust, respect, and suspicion.

• Keep It Clean: A messy, unorganized store makes it easier for shoplifters to steal from, especially when you’re not sure what goes where, what’s selling, and what’s not. To increase your oversight and minimize the likelihood of stolen items, keep merchandise clean and organized.

• Build Relationships with Customers: Your customers are a big part of your business. The better you know them, the less likely they are to steal from you. The ones you know by name are aware that you can pick them out of a lineup, and your more honest shoppers won’t be afraid to report suspicious behavior to you.

• Build Relationships with Employees: Relationship building goes for employees as well. Forge relationships with your employees and let them know they’re valued and appreciated. Internal theft is as much of a problem as shoplifting. In fact, probably more, with 75 percent of employees admitting to stealing from their employer at least once.

• Watch for Loiterers: Loiterers are often bad news for businesses and usually a tell tale sign there might be trouble on the horizon. With so many hands and so much activity, it’s relatively easy for a group to snag items and wander out. Pay close attention to people who appear to be hanging around with no intention of buying anything.

• Run a Tight Ship: A well-oiled machine is much harder to steal from. When your employees are always at attention, your business is far less likely to be a target. Share shoplifting prevention tips like this with your employees to ensure they know how to prevent a potential crime. By showing your customers you’re watching, they’ll know there’s no room for error in your store.

• Watch for Shifty Behavior: Some shoplifters, especially those new to the process, may show warning signs before problems arise. They may wear large sweatshirts, spend long periods of time in the same aisle, carry large purses or bags, and continually check to see if you’re watching. Know the signs and trends, and keep a close eye on customers exhibiting this type of behavior.

• Expand Your Team: Hiring more employees may seem like a costly solution, but putting an extra set of hands on the floor can make a huge difference. Inevitably, there will be times when you’re with a customer, in the back, or otherwise unable to watch the floor. In these moments, you’ll appreciate the assistance another team member can provide.

• Employ Mirrors: If you have a large store and a small staff, it may seem impossible to watch every corner at all times. With mirrors, surveillance becomes a whole lot easier. Many stores, from convenience shops to high-end department stores, utilize rounded mirrors in the corners by the ceiling to prevent theft. This provides a broader view, ensuring you can see every last detail on your floor even a blind spot.

• Add Prevention Tactics: Electronic article surveillance, which refers to the tags that hang on clothing and other high-value items to deter theft, may seem like an expense only big-box retailers can afford. , Offering an easy way to ensure expensive items are protected at all times, the benefits of such tags outweigh the cost of using them.

• Put up Signs: Theft prevention signs are common in stores across the country; they often advertise security methods, fines imposed and maximum criminal shoplifting charge. While these signs may seem like all bark and no bite, research shows that a store that emphasizes punishments for shoplifting is far less likely to be robbed. To maximize effectiveness, hang signs near higher value items, like jewelry and electronics.

• Involve the Police: Calling the police for every little-attempted theft of a $5 lipstick or a $1 soda may sound like overkill, but the more you do now, the better a precedent you set for the future.

• Manage Refunds and Returns: Shoplifting isn’t the only way criminals can target your store – fraudulent returns are another easy way for thieves to squeeze money out of your business. If you’re lenient with returns, allowing every little request to pass through your drawer, it’ll be easy for a professional shoplifter to take advantage of you. Instead, develop a strict policy and stick with it.

• Get Strict With Receipts: In the world of shoplifting, receipts are the best way to prove a legitimate sale versus a robbery. Instead of letting customers walk out the door with a cheery wave, consider appointing someone to check bags and receipts by the entrance. Even if checks are brief and hurried, the idea of someone checking bags will make a difference.

• Use Shorter Displays: Long aisles are the norm in many stores, but they can make it hard to keep an eye on what’s going on with shoppers. Shorter displays make it easier to watch, allowing you to see how customers move around the store and survey merchandise while identifying potential shoplifters.

• Put Your Checkout by the Exit: A checkout in the back of the store may be convenient, especially when it comes to checking and organizing the stockroom, but this strategy can be bad for business. When you want to watch your store as efficiently as possible, a checkout in the front by the door makes it easy for you to greet customers and make eye contact when they come in and acknowledge them when they leave.

• Install an Entrance Alert Sensor: The buzzers and bells that ring when individuals enter or exit your store may be annoying, but they’re very handy, especially for smaller, low-volume businesses. These systems work in two ways: notifying you when someone comes into your store, and letting shoppers know that you’re watching. When you have a buzzer in place, there’s no way for a shoplifter to sneak past you when you have your back turned.

• Keep an Eye on Registers: Swiping cash out of the register is an easy way for thieves to steal from you without ever disturbing the merchandise. When you’re working the register, never, ever leave it unattended. Instead, let your team member on the floor handle customer disputes while you stay put.

• Use Lockers: Banning the use of large bags, purses, and backpacks while shopping may seem paranoid, but doing away with these items makes it much harder to steal high-value items. By employing a locker system, you can be sure shoppers aren’t sneaking merchandise into their bags and running away with your hard-earned cash.

• Monitor Dressing Rooms: Dressing rooms provide a perfect way for unscrupulous customers to steal. Instead of allowing them to wander in and out at will while trying on clothes, position an employee near the fitting rooms and use a number system to track how many items enter and exit. This way, you’ll always know if something is missing.

• Install Security Cameras: Surveillance cameras are the single best way to prevent theft, allowing you to keep an eye on the whole store and capture images of thieves in the act of committing a crime. Gone are the days of grainy video, dark scenes and faces you could only see in broad daylight. You can now see clear images day or night, rain or shine.

Free Initial Consultation with a Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you’ve been charged with shoplifting in Utah, please call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506