Shoplifting is sometimes viewed as something that only rebellious kids do, but studies have shown that approximately 75 percent of shoplifters are in fact adults. Additionally, there is a misconception floating around that the law views shoplifting as a minor offense that deserves only a slap on the wrist. Be aware that this is not always the case and that shoplifters can be sentenced to serve time in jail. Clearly, shoplifting is not a well-understood crime. Hopefully, the questions and answers provided below will help clear up some of this confusion.
Q: Is shoplifting common?
A: According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP), shoplifting (or the action of stealing goods from a store while pretending to be a customer) is quite prevalent. The NASP’s website reports that more than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years and that there are approximately 27 million shoplifters currently in the United States.
Q: Why are shoplifters sometimes charged with “petty theft” and sometimes with “grand theft”?
A: In most states, shoplifting is classified as a type of theft crime that can be charged as either petty theft or as grand theft, depending on the value of the merchandise that the offender took. A suspected shoplifter can be charged with petty theft if the value of the products, goods, or merchandise that they took has a value of $950 or less. However, if the value of items taken exceeds $950 then the offender can be charged with the more severe crime of grand theft.
Q: What are the penalties for shoplifting?
A: Shoplifters can be held liable both criminally and civilly. In other words, the government can hold the offender liable by filing criminal charges against him or her and the owner of the stolen merchandise can sue the shoplifter in civil court. Therefore, shoplifters may potentially face both the criminal and civil penalties listed below:
- Petty theft is classified as a misdemeanor and can be punished by a fine of usually between $50 to $1,000 and/or six months in jail (for a first time petty theft conviction).
- Grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony and is generally punishable by a prison sentence of up to one year (or up to three years if the shoplifted item was a firearm).
- Shoplifters who are found liable in civil court are generally required to pay damages in the amount of $50 to $500, plus the retail value of any merchandise that was not recovered in sellable condition.
Q: How long will a shoplifting conviction stay on my record?
A: Generally speaking, conviction records remain on an individual’s unless it is removed. In order to get a shoplifting conviction removed from your record you must generally petition the court to have the record “expunged”.
Be aware that while expungements can be very beneficial and can help you move on from mistakes that you may have made in the past, they are a complicated legal tool and can be a bit confusing. If you are interested in expunging a conviction from your record be sure to consult with a local expungement lawyer about your legal options.
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Thanks to the Morales Law Firm for their insight into criminal law and your constitutional rights.