Shoplifting is a prevalent crime- more than $13 billion worth of merchandise is stolen from retailers each year, or more than $35 million per day. More than 10 million people have been caught for shoplifting in the last five years and there are approximately 27 million shoplifters in the United States today.
Shoplifting crimes are considered "Crimes of Moral Turpitude"- or crimes involving dishonesty. Because of this reason, shoplifting charges can be quite serious, as many employers will disqualify a person with a recent theft conviction- theft convictions appear on background reports for ten years or more. Also, if you are not a US citizen, a shoplifting conviction can lead to a denial of permanent residency, deportation or denial of entry into the United States. People get away with shoplifting by larceny, trickery, embezzlement, or false pretenses.
- Larceny involves carrying off another person's property without their consent
- Trickery involves tactics such as tag switching
- Embezzlement involves depriving someone of something after it was entrusted to you (normally involves an employer-employee relationship)
- False pretense involves making false representations to obtain money, property or labor, convincing someone that something belongs to you when it does not
Department stores, supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores- all can be targeted by shoplifters. Shoplifting can include a lot of things- such as switching a higher priced tag with a less expensive one. Employees are some of the most common culprits- the Wall Street Journal reports that 75% of employees have stolen at least one time.
In California, penalties for shoplifting depend upon whether "petty theft" or "grand theft" took place. Penal Code Sections 484 and 488 discuss petty and grand theft. For an offense that involved less than $950, a defendant may be forced to pay a $1,000 fine and spend six months in jail.
When more than $950 worth of goods is stolen, an individual can face a sentence of one year in prison. Grand theft constitutes a felony offense. Grand theft often includes auto burglary, embezzlement or identity theft. Other factors that can determine whether your crime is charged to you as a misdemeanor or a felony include criminal record and the circumstances of your case (if there were any "aggravating factors" involved). Aggravating factors can include:
- Use of a weapon
- Resisting arrest
- Conspiracy (shoplifting involving a ring of people)
Civil Demand Letters
After you have been accused of shoplifting, a store might mail you a "civil demand letter" and threaten to sue you, if you do not pay them back for this loss. Before you do so- you should know your rights. If a store recovers the item you tried to take, you are not responsible to pay for any loss. Only if you damaged an item and that item could not subsequently be resold, can you be held liable.
Defenses for Shoplifting
Defenses against shoplifting charges can include: you forgot to put back merchandise or pay for the merchandise, the "stolen items" actually belong to you, you had consent to take the items, you were framed, you were unaware you had unpaid-for merchandise on you.
Typically if this was your first offense, you could receive diminished penalties such as having to repay the value of the merchandise, carry out community service or attend anti-theft classes. If you can pursue a plea agreement, your charges could get reduced to a Penal Code 415 violation- trespassing or disturbing the peace. In California, trespassing is a misdemeanor and disturbing the peace is an infraction.
No matter what kind of a shoplifting charge you face, this crime can be serious. As previously mentioned, a shoplifting conviction can affect your future employment or residency in the United States. Because of the serious nature of shoplifting, you should contact Hanson, Gorian and Bradford today!