Shoplifting is intentionally taking merchandise from a store or retail shop without permission and without paying for the items. The person must intend to permanently depriving the business of its merchandise. Many items can be targeted for shoplifting, some more than others; some items that are commonly shoplifted may include:
- Baby items;
- Electronic devices, especially smartphones and laptops;
- Food items, especially meats;
- Alcoholic beverages;
- Cosmetics; and/or
Generally speaking, many shoplifters target small, more expensive items that can easily fit in a pocket or a purse. Some shoplifting efforts may involve more than one actor, with one person acting as a distraction while the other conducts the shoplifting.
A person can be charged with either misdemeanor or felony shoplifting. Whether a shoplifting charge is a form of felony theft depends on state law. A shoplifting charge may be listed under petty theft or another type of larceny.
States typically decide if shoplifting is a felony according to merchandise value. In order to be classified as felony shoplifting, the stolen property must often exceed a minimum price. The specific value depends on state law. Generally, a felony shoplifting charge involves monetary amounts ranging from $500 to $1,000.
Thus, an individual who is charged with taking $100 of merchandise will likely be charged with misdemeanor shoplifting. Another person charged with take $501 worth of merchandise will likely be charged with felony shoplifting.
Shoplifting certain items can result in felony shoplifting charges, regardless of the value of the property that was stolen. This is referred to as a categorical felony. The value of the merchandise that was taken does not matter when it includes:
- Firearms; and/or
- Incendiary devices.
Thus, if a person shoplifts even a relatively inexpensive firearm, they may be charged with felony shoplifting. The penalties can be even more severe if the person has prior felonies on their record (some persons who are convicted of a felon may not be allowed to possess a firearm).
Also, in some states, the types of items taken and value of the stolen property do no matter if a person has a prior criminal history. For example, some states increase a shoplifting charge to a felony if the person has been convicted of two or more theft offenses.
Also, stealing any explosive or devices that can be used to create explosives can become a federal issue. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) monitors any sales, transportation, possession, and any stolen goods that can be used for bomb making.
This can include obvious things like plastic explosives to less obvious, like ammonium nitrate which is often used in fertilizer (as well as in bomb making). Stealing any of the items monitored by the ATF can turn a simple issue of shoplifting into a question of terrorism.
Misdemeanor charges are usually less serious than felony charges. The main difference between the two lies mostly in the way that they are punished. Misdemeanor charges often involve a sentence of up to one year maximum in a jail facility. They may also involve criminal fines as well (usually up to $500 maximum). The amount of the fine typically depends on the amount of property that was stolen.
In comparison, felony charges are typically punishable by sentences of longer than one year in a prison facility (not a county jail facility). They may also involve criminal fines as well, which will be higher than those for criminal misdemeanor charges. For a felony shoplifting charge, the criminal consequences can typically involve several years in prison, as well as thousands of dollars in criminal fines.
Some crimes may be classified as “wobblers”. This means that they can either be considered as a misdemeanor charge or a felony charge, depending on the circumstances of the case as well as the judge’s discretion. Some states also have degrees of shoplifting felonies, which indicate levels of seriousness of the crime. Felony degrees may range from one to five, with fifth-degree felony being the most serious.
Shoplifting charges can be serious and can result in felony consequences. In certain situations, a local criminal attorney can negotiate with a prosecutor to have the shoplifting charge reduced to a misdemeanor or dismissed. An attorney will also advise you of your legal rights and available defenses.