Retail Theft Lawyers

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What Is Retail Theft?

Retail theft occurs when a persons unlawfully takes possession of, transfers, or carries away any merchandise offered for sale by a retail establishment. It can also involve other conduct besides the physical theft of property, such as:

Generally, a person can be held guilty for retail theft if they didn’t pay the full value of the merchandise. Retail theft is usually punishable by a criminal fine and/or jail time, depending on the value of the merchandise that was stolen. 

Is Retail Theft the Same as Shoplifting?

Retail theft is sometimes known as “shoplifting” and is usually listed under state petty theft laws. In some jurisdictions, retail theft can sometimes be a broader criminal charge than shoplifting. Shoplifting usually refers to customers of a retail establishment who steal merchandise.  On the other hand, retail theft can also include thefts that are committed by employees of the establishment. 

For example, most state retail theft laws consider “under-ringing” to be criminal conduct under theft laws. Under-ringing occurs where a cashier or other employee manipulates the cash register or other sales device to reflect a value that is less than the full sales price for the item. 

Under-ringing may also include abuses of employee discount privileges and other employee benefits. Both the employee and the customer may face criminal charges if they are involved in under-ringing.   

Is Retail Theft a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

It depends- in most cases, a first-time charge for retail theft will result in a criminal misdemeanor charge. Misdemeanor charges will result in minor legal penalties such as a criminal fine and/or a jail term of less than one year.

However, a second or third-time retail theft offense may result in criminal felony charges in some states. Felonies are punished more severely than misdemeanors. They usually result in higher fines and a sentence of more than one year in a prison facility rather than in a jail facility. 

Also, a first-time theft offense may be a felony charge in some states if the total amount of the property stolen is higher than a certain amount (usually around $500 in most states). Theft of a firearm or an automobile will result in a felony charges. 

Are There Any Defenses to Retail Theft?

Yes- one of the more commonly raised defenses to retail theft is lack of criminal intent. In order to be found guilty of retail theft, the defendant must have taken the property with the intent to permanently deprive the retailer of the property. That is, the person must act with the intent to steal.

Therefore, if a person accidentally pockets an item or holds onto an item while intending to return the property, it may serve as a defense to retail theft. On the other hand the intent to steal can sometimes be proven by the person’s actions after they took the item.  For example, if a customer runs out of the store after putting an item in their purse, it may be evidence that they acted with criminal intent to steal the item.

Finally, most other criminal defenses may be applicable with retail theft charges, such as intoxication, insanity, etc. Ignorance of criminal laws is never an excuse or defense for retail theft charges.  

Do I Need a Lawyer for Retail Theft Charges?

Retail theft can sometimes lead to criminal charges that can last for a long time on a person’s record. If you are facing charges for retail theft, you may wish to consult with a criminal defense lawyer for advice and representation in court. Theft laws can vary widely from state to state, but an experienced criminal attorney will be familiar with the laws in your area. They may be able to have the charges dropped or reduced to a lesser charge, depending on the facts involved in your case. 

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Last Modified: 01-29-2014 03:59 PM PST

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