What is Shoplifting Law?
Shoplifting law deals with theft crimes that occur in retail establishments. Perpetrators are shoppers who enter the establishment with permission. They will either conceal merchandise and leave the store without paying, or fraudulently manipulate an itemís packaging in order to pay less than the true price. Merely concealing property with the intent to deprive the owner is sufficient to constitute the crime of shoplifting in most jurisdictions, even if the perpetrator does not succeed in removing the property from the premises.
Laws prohibiting shoplifting are found in state and municipal penal codes. Penalties include jail time, fines, court fees, and any number of probationary terms such as restitution and community service. The particular sentence handed down in a given case will depend primarily on the dollar value of the property taken. Sentences may be more severe in light of aggravating factors like previous theft convictions or a lack of remorse by the defendant. At the discretion of the prosecutor, shoplifting cases involving substantial loss to the victim may be charged as more serious crimes, such as felony larceny.
Merchantís Authority to Detain
It is extremely rare for law enforcement to be present and personally detect the crime of shoplifting as it is happening. Most of the time, the police are called to the scene by store employees who apprehended the suspect after witnessing the theft. While merchants have a legitimate concern in protecting against shoplifting losses, encounters between employees and suspects give rise to important concerns. Specifically, there is a danger that employees will act without sufficient justification, or that they will infringe upon the suspectís rights by the way the detention is carried out.
Rules are in place in every jurisdiction with respect to a merchantís authority to question and hold a shoplifting suspect until the police arrive. These rules may be founded on language in the applicable shoplifting statute, or they may be an extension of constitutional principles. In general, security guards or other employees must have ďprobable causeĒ to believe a crime has been committed before stopping a suspect. Probable cause can be established through the observations of employees or customers, statements made by the suspect in response to questioning, surveillance video recordings, or a combination of these and other factors.
Store employees must also carry out the questioning and detention of suspects in a reasonable manner. Like other areas of the law, application of this rule depends upon the factual circumstances. For example, an employee who sees a customer conceal an item of merchandise and walk toward the exit will likely act within the law by stepping in front of the customer to prevent escape. On the other hand, with nothing more than secondhand information from a bystander, an employee would likely violate the law by grabbing a hold of a customer and engaging in a physical struggle to prevent the customer from leaving.
Defending a Shoplifting Case
If criminal charges are filed, individuals should take steps to protect their rights and force the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. While only an attorney can perform a complete review of the case and find all of the weaknesses in the prosecutionís case, defendants should always consider the issue of intent. Shoplifting requires that the defendant took merchandise intending to steal it. Because innocent actions can be misconstrued, the element of intent often presents a hurdle for prosecutors in these cases. Of course, any successful defense must be in harmony with all the rest of the evidence in the case.
Avoiding the Consequences of a Conviction
Even in the presence of strong evidence against the defendant, the long-term ramifications of a shoplifting conviction may warrant taking a case to trial rather than pleading guilty. In fact, it is quite common for merchants to fail to show up to trial to testify against the defendant due to the expense of taking time away from other obligations in order to participate in the proceedings. Many otherwise solid cases have been dismissed simply because the prosecutionís witnesses were unavailable on the day of the trial.
Plea bargaining is another option available to defendants. The idea is for the defendant to agree to accept a certain amount of responsibility in exchange for the prosecutor amending the charges to something less damaging to the defendantís reputation and future employment prospects. Some courts also offer a deferral option to first-time offenders. A deferral allows the court to erase all records of the shoplifting arrest once the defendant has satisfied conditions such as the payment of restitution and the completion of probation.
Consulting a Defense Lawyer
If you have been arrested for shoplifting, you may feel confused, embarrassed, or even angry. As bad as your situation may appear, going forward without an attorney will almost certainly make things worse. To learn about the options for resolving your case, contact a criminal defense lawyer now.
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Articles for Shoplifting Law
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- Crime of ShopliftingShoplifting occurs when someone goes into a store and takes something that does not belong to him or her. Many businesses have to carefully monitor shoplifting because it causes so much monetary loss to a business. This is why many people have had the experience of going in a store and being followed around because they are being suspected of shoplifting.
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- Shoplifting in Texas Comes with an Added CostWhen a person is arrested for shoplifting in Texas, some retailers are send civil demand notices as well, requesting civil payment of anywhere from $250 to $500 dollars. This is based on Texas Theft Liability Act.
- What can the Police Require me To Do once I'm Arrested?Once you are arrested what you say and do in the presence of the police becomes that much more important to protecting your freedom. Because your freedom is at stake, what you say and do can mean the difference between guilty and not guilty.
- What Are the Laws Against Looting?After a natural catastrophe, riots, terrorist attack, or other devastating event, it is not uncommon for some members of society to take to the streets and begin taking almost anything they want. Sometimes looters only take necessities, like food, water, and toilet paper, but more often than not, looters are taking items of value like televisions, computers, jewelery, etc. How does the law deal with this and what are a person's rights when trying to prevent looting?
- Facts About ShopliftingIn many stores today we see the signs warning about being on camera and advising that shoplifters will be prosecuted. Despite these measure, every year billions of dollars worth of products are stolen from retailers. So what is shoplifting, how is it different than other types of theft, what are the possible consequences, and what impact does it have on society?
- Los Angeles Shoplifting: Felony or Misdemanor, It's Still a CrimeWhen thinking of shoplifting, you may think of Jean Valjean in Les Misťrables who stole bread for his starving sister and was imprisoned for five years. But not everybody who shoplifts steals food because they're hungry. It doesn't matter what was shoplifted, or who did the shoplifting, it is still a crime, and is the most common type of theft happening today in the United States.
- Job Search Difficult for Ex-OffendersItís generally against the law for most employers to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of race and national origin, among other characteristics. But these same employers routinely refuse to even consider hiring someone with a criminal record. The applicant with a record goes to the bottom of the pile Ė or doesnít get into the pile at all.
- Overview of Misdemeanor Charges in Las VegasMisdemeanor Charges - A misdemeanor is an offense that the criminal justice system considers less serious than a felony. The offense is normally punishable by fines up to $1,000 and imprisonment for up to six months. Felony offenses are punishable by a year or more in prison. Misdemeanor sentences are typically served in a local jail.
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Shoplifting Law - US
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- Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)
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- Shoplifting - Definition by Wikipedia
- Shoplifting - Overview
Although the crime of shoplifting may be prosecuted under general Larceny statutes, most jurisdictions have established a specific category for shoplifting.