Shoplifting Law

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.


Know Your Rights!

Articles for Shoplifting Law

  • How Could Expungement Law Changes in Missouri Impact the Future of Those Convicted?
    Recently state law in Missouri changed for the better when it comes to people convicted of certain crimes and the ability to expunge or "remove" those convictions from their records.
  • Differences between Texas Criminal Offenses in Shoplifting and Robbery
    Individuals who are suspected of stealing in Texas may find themselves on the receiving end of property theft charges. These charges may include shoplifting, robbery or other crimes. Robbery and shoplifting have some similarities and many differences. It is important for criminal defendants to understand the nature of the charges against them.
  • Defending Burglary, Robbery and Theft Related Charges in Philadelphia
    Burglary, robbery, and theft-related charges in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania carry serious consequences which will affect your life now and in the future.
  • Petit Crimes: "The Devil Made Me Do It!"
    Being arrested or charged with a crime can be a devastating experience, especially when you've never been in trouble before. People caught shoplifting are often blindsided by their own behavior and have a difficult time explaining what motivated them.
  • Burglary, Robbery, Shoplifting and Other Property Theft Crimes
    There are many different types of theft crimes. It is important to know which of these has been committed so that a prosecutor does not face the case being thrown out when it goes before a judge.
  • Smash and Grab Thefts on the Rise
    A smash and grab is a theft that occurs when the perpetrators drive a car into a building, quickly grab all the merchandise or money that they can and then flee. Even though the act is dramatic, attention getting, and often triggers alarms by breaking through security, they work because they happen so quickly. Just this week a Littleton gun store was hit for the third time this year.
  • Things to Know about Major Thefts
    The issue with theft has dropped throughout the United States as the economy improves, but major thefts are still an issue. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been committed to the various major thefts of art, gems, retail and other types of greater robbery. Through their efforts, many heists have been foiled.
  • Crime of Shoplifting
    Shoplifting 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.
  • Theft Offenses in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Tampa
    Theft involves the unlawful taking of, or using, the property of another person, or endeavoring to do so. Theft offenses in Florida can be prosecuted as either felonies or misdemeanors depending on the nature of the item taken, the value of the item taken, or the number of prior theft convictions an accused person has.
  • Shoplifting in Texas Comes with an Added Cost
    When 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.
  • All Criminal Law Articles

Shoplifting Law - US

Publications Related to Shoplifting Law

Organizations Related to Shoplifting Law

Find a Lawyer

Find a Local Lawyer