Shoplifting is a severe offense with potential lifelong repercussions. A criminal record of even a misdemeanor shoplifting charge can impact employment applications, eligibility for housing, and other areas for years after the case is over.

Additionally, stores can legally send accused shoplifters what is known as a civil demand letter for a fine, restitution for stolen items, and reimbursement for legal costs and costs related to loss prevention staff. A lawyer can defend against these demands.

First-Time Offenses

Shoplifting is one of the leading causes of merchandise losses for retail establishments, costing retailers an estimated $14 billion a year. In most states, store owners or their agents can detain shoplifters until police arrive if they have probable cause. Probable causes include observing the suspect’s approach, selection, concealment, movement, or modification of merchandise and failure to pay for it before leaving the store.

Depending on the number of stolen items and prior offenses, shoplifting is classified as a misdemeanor or felony crime in most states. Criminal lawyers can raise various defenses in a shoplifting case, including that the defendant did not intend to steal the items or take the merchandise past the point of sale.

A first-time misdemeanor shoplifting charge does not have to stain a young person’s permanent record or derail their life prospects. A lawyer for a shoplifting charge can review your case and fight to have the charges dropped or mitigated through a plea bargain.

Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition

Many large department stores, malls, and retail chains employ loss prevention personnel with extensive training in shoplifting detection. These employees are trained to quickly detain and interrogate suspected offenders to stop the crime from occurring. If a loss prevention employee confronts you at a store, remain calm and follow their instructions. Getting belligerent or argumentative will only make the situation worse.

A shoplifting conviction can hurt your future long after the fines, community service, and probation are complete. This misdemeanor can affect your employment, housing, and living arrangements and can have ancillary effects for years after the case is resolved.

A qualified criminal defense attorney can look at your case and all options before deciding that ARD suits you. It is essential to understand that ARD should always be considered the first option. You only use this “get out of jail free card” once.

Plea Bargains

Most shoplifting cases are resolved through plea agreements with the District Attorney’s Office. It is an option for both first and second offenses of a minor value.

However, the big drawback to a plea bargain is that it puts criminal charges on the defendant’s record. It can have severe consequences for the defendant’s life and career.

Having an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side is the best way to protect your future and your rights. A skilled criminal attorney can argue that the evidence in your case is not strong enough to prove intent to steal or call into question statements made by witnesses such as security guards, who are often wrong about what they see.

Many stores and malls also pursue civil claims against shoplifters, including demands for restitution of stolen merchandise and legal fees and costs associated with the loss prevention department. It is a separate civil proceeding from the criminal proceedings and can affect your credit score.

Post-Conviction Options

Depending on the value of items taken and state law, it may be possible for prosecutors to use prior convictions to enhance shoplifting charges. It could result in a felony charge with harsher penalties. That is why it is essential to hire a criminal attorney before deciding to accept any plea deal. The adage “penny wise and pound foolish” often applies to shoplifting cases.

Even a petty theft crime can affect your reputation and cause you to lose valuable employment, business opportunities, or professional licenses. An experienced shoplifting lawyer may be able to get charges reduced or dismissed based on several legal and factual defenses. 

By Grace