Although shoplifting is a common offense, it doesn’t mean that the consequences are less severe. Shoplifters can be charged with both criminal and civil charges.
Although shoplifting is a common offense, it doesn’t mean that shoplifting crimes don’t get serious attention. The penalties can be severe, especially if the merchandise’s dollar value is high or the offender has a criminal history.
Shoplifting: How to Get Charged and Punished
Shoplifting can be charged in many states and is treated as theft or larceny. This includes petty theft. For purposes of charging or sentencing, other states make a distinction between shoplifting crimes and general theft. Some even treat shoplifting more severely than other theft offenses.
If there is evidence that the shoplifting was part of an organized shoplifting spree or series of thefts from retail establishments, they will face more severe charges and/or harsher punishments. These schemes are often called “retail theft rings” and “organized retail theft,” particularly when they involve the illegal resale or stealing of stolen items.
Shoplifting: Civil Liability
A shoplifting offense can result in criminal penalties. Every state also has a civil law that allows shoplifters to be held civilly responsible to the shop owner or the owner of the merchandise for any money damages.
In almost all states, the parent/legal guardian of a minor who shoplifts may also be on the hook to pay money damages. However, some states require that the guardian or parent knew or should have known about the minor’s tendency toward shoplifting. Some states have lower penalties for minors and parents who shoplift as compared to adults.
Civil vs. Criminal Court
A government prosecutor generally files criminal charges against a defendant. This action is taken in criminal court. Penalties can include fines or imprisonment. Criminal defendants are entitled to a public defense (or court-appointed lawyer) if they cannot afford one. Among the most common criminal charges are assault, murder, burglary, and theft.
You can also bring a civil case against the defendant for breach of contract, personal injury, and medical malpractice. The plaintiff (the wronged party) files a suit against the defendant (defendant). A civil court cannot appoint a public defender or a court-appointed attorney.
Many civil shoplifting laws require that the store owner makes a written demand for payment before filing a civil lawsuit. This demand must not be met. In most states, the civil case can proceed regardless of whether any criminal charges were ever filed.
Although every state has a different civil shoplifting law, the common financial liability covers payment or repayment of:
- If the item is not returned in sellable conditions, the total retail value of the item was stolen.
- Other financial losses suffered by the store owner as a result of the theft
- An additional civil penalty. This is usually calculated using the merchandise’s value.
- Repayment of court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the merchandiser or store.
Talk to a lawyer
A criminal defense lawyer is available to assist you if you are facing shoplifting charges. A defense attorney can help protect your rights and navigate the criminal law system. They will also advise you about the possible consequences of a conviction. If you have been served with a summons or demand letter from the owner of the store, you should consult a civil lawyer.
Shoplifting can be pleaded guilty to or settled without counsel. This could have unforeseen consequences. A criminal record for shoplifting may make it difficult to rent an apartment or get a job.