Shoplifting charges? What to expect in court?

Most people who find themselves in trouble for crimes like shoplifting or petty theft often think that the item they are stealing is of too little value to land them in big trouble. However, the consequences of illegally taking something that is not yours can still result in significant penalties. Depending on the value of the item shoplifted and the circumstances surrounding the theft, a petty shoplifting crime can still result in a jail sentence for up to one year and up to $2000 in financial penalties.

How to proceed in a shoplifting case?

There is no standardized way to predict a shoplifting case because the value of what was stolen could be very little, like a piece of candy, but it could also be very large, like a piece of expensive jewelry. Shoplifting laws also vary greatly from state to state. Since the nature of shoplifting cases see so much variation and are generally complicated, if you find yourself charged with shoplifting, your first course of action should be to hire an experienced and reliable criminal defense attorney.

Your attorney will most likely proceed by asking you a series of questions to gain an overview about the case at hand. You should answer all these questions as truthfully as you can so your attorney can help you. These questions will most likely be:

  • What is the value of the item or items you stole?
  • Were you intoxicated when the incident occurred?
  • Are the items you stole related to a substance abuse problem?
  • Was someone else involved in the plan to commit the theft? How many people were they? Were they minors? People with developmental disabilities or elderly?
  • Is there any video or audio evidence of the crime?
  • What is your criminal history?

Severity of shoplifting charges

In the same way as other theft or larceny related charges, the severity of shoplifting charges depends on the value of the items stolen and the items themselves. Certain items like firearms, explosives, incendiary substances, large quantities of a controlled substance (such as prescription drugs with a potential for abuse like Adderall or Oxycodone) or materials used in the manufacture of a controlled substance can lead to more severe penalties.

In most states, the spectrum of shoplifting charges runs from a low level ‘infraction,’ to a ‘misdemeanor,’ and in certain cases, even to certain degrees of ‘felony’ charges.

Where the charges against you will lie depends on your previous criminal record. Prior convictions and prior theft convictions in particular will generally make the charges against you harsher. In certain states, prior theft convictions result in more severe charges automatically. These can even be felony charges known as “petty with a prior.”

If your crime is relatively insignificant, for example if you have stolen a small perishable food item worth less than $20 and it’s the first crime on your criminal record, but the state does not want to drop the charges completely, you may have the option to participate in a pretrial diversion program or deferred prosecution. This is a type of plea bargain in which you will be required to pay a fine and most likely also complete community service.

If you are facing a shoplifting charge, get in touch with a criminal defense attorney immediately to defend your case and protect your rights. Taking the matter lightly will only complicate the issue and result in an increase in the penalties.