Understanding the Various Aspects of the Shoplifting Court Procedure

Getting fingerprinted

The shoplifting court procedure can involve not only criminal proceedings, but also a civil lawsuit by the merchant. Learn more here from our attorneys.

How the Shoplifting Court Procedure Is Handled

The shoplifting court procedure may seem fairly straightforward. If you took something you didn’t pay for, you will be prosecuted for theft, await trial, have to appear in court, and face a fine, receive a sentence of jail time or probation, or at least community service. Even if it is your first offense, if you are found guilty of the crime, the best attorneys in the state will help you through the legal process.

If you are accused of a crime you didn’t commit, the prosecutor may still recommend taking your case to trial and suggest you plead guilty. An excellent criminal defense lawyer from The Law Offices of Andrew Nickel, LLC will provide general information and help you with your charge.

How to Address Shoplifting in Your Retail Environment to Avoid the Court Process

If you own a retail shop, you should have policies in place to prevent and deal with shoplifters. Though you may believe shoplifting will not occur at your store, the chances are that it will. A 2014 study for the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention found that one out of eleven will, and there is no way to tell who a shoplifter is. Namely, shoplifters can be men or women, of any age, color, race, and creed. Anyone could be a shoplifter.

What to Do About Shoplifting

Shoplifting happens often, so the store’s staff should be prepared for it. When they write their store’s shoplifting policies, they should consider these questions:

  • Will you aim to prosecute shoplifters, or is your goal to get your merchandise back?
  • Will you have a zero-tolerance policy?
  • Will you prosecute shoplifters over or under a certain age?
  • Should the amount or value of the merchandise come into play when choosing to prosecute?
  • How will you confront them?
  • What happens if the shoplifter offers to pay for the merchandise or if they are remorseful?
  • Who should call the police?

It is generally best to implement a policy that is firm yet fair. If your store decides they will not prosecute shoplifters, they may become an easy target. On the other hand, if word gets around that your shop is serious about theft and prosecutes offenders, many thieves may avoid your business.

The Procedure in Court When Defending Yourself Under Shoplifting Charges

One of the most significant ways to defend against shoplifters is through eyewitnesses. An eyewitness, like an employee, must be sure they saw the correct person. Mistaken identity is an excellent defense strategy and can help prevent charges against the accused shoplifter, and the incident can be used against the employee or eyewitness.

The person in question will be asked questions so their identity can be refuted, or the eyewitness is made out to be wrong. The lawyer may come up with a plea bargain if the defendant has evidence but not enough to get a verdict of “not guilty” of retail theft.

The owner of the shop needs to prove there was intent to steal merchandise. Some people do not intend to shoplift when they, for example, try on several outfits and end up accidentally walking out with an outfit they do not want. When they attempt to return it, the owner may accuse them of theft.

Criminal Defense Options if You Are Caught Shoplifting for the First Time

The first thing the prosecution must prove is the accused must have concealed the store’s property. This will prove intent existed. This person was trying on clothes or jewelry. If the intent did not exist, the charges are invalid. The defense lawyer may be able to prove the shoplifting incident was accidental.

General Shoplifting Defense Strategies

A lawyer can lay out the defense that nothing was meant to be stolen. This may mean no charges are brought, or they are dropped.

The attorney hired to represent you may be able to present a good defense strategy. Depending on the evidence against you, the lawyer can argue in your favor and present a case that keeps with their strategy. First-time offenders may also be offered a plea bargain.

Before a criminal defense attorney or legal team will defend someone, it is imperative the two elements that make up a crime exist. This allows the lawyer to argue against the shoplifting court procedure and challenge them.

  • The first element is whether the item or items were intentionally concealed.
  • The second element is whether the item was permanently deprived without being paid for.

If the intent does not exist for either element, then the defense’s case may be strong enough to prove doubt. However, even if you are unsure whether your case falls into one of these two elements, you should still reach out to an attorney for a consultation.

How to Prevent a Shoplifting Charge

There are things like customer service, technology, and the store’s design that can help in the prevention of shoplifting. Additionally, if you are accused of shoplifting, there are actions you can take to lessen the odds that you will be charged or prosecuted. The most imperative of these actions is hiring an attorney.

If a shop owner intends to prosecute shoplifters, they should post a sign that says so. If they see someone take something, they should tell an employee so they have a witness when they confront them. They should never directly accuse the shoplifter but instead ask them if they can ring up the product. If a shop owner acts as if the shoplifter were carrying the item in their pocket until they were ready to pay, chances are they will pay or put it back.

Other Ways to Avoid a Shoplifting Court Procedure

Know the laws – local and state – about shoplifting. Your local police station and lawyers should be able to provide additional information.

While the laws surrounding shoplifting differ, most states say an employee must see a shoplifter take an item, hide it, and exit the store without attempting to pay for it. They must not take their eyes off the shoplifter, and they may stop the shoplifter without force. 

Sometimes, the person may not have been shoplifting, so a full observation is imperative.

If a person is suspicious, store owners should be calm and professional. Speak to the suspect politely yet firmly to avoid a discrimination lawsuit. If you are the theft suspect, you should remain calm as well to prevent the situation from escalating.

Prosecuting Shoplifting Court Cases

Like other larceny or theft charges, how you are charged when you are accused of shoplifting depends on the items’ value. Things like explosives, firearms, or prescription drugs can lead to harsher penalties.

Some states have shoplifting charges that go from an infraction, which is a low-level charge, to a criminal misdemeanor or even a felony.

How you will be charged if you are arrested often depends on your criminal record. Prior criminal shoplifting charges may make the shoplifting charges have higher penalties. In some states, any previous shoplifting convictions may make the penalties you face even harsher. You may also be charged with felony charges called “petty with a prior” and require a stronger criminal defense.

How to Get Shoplifting Charges Dropped

Your attorney may be able to negotiate lesser charges, have your charges dropped, or get a non-theft offense through a plea bargain. If this is your first shoplifting charge and you have no prior history, your charges can potentially be dismissed in the shoplifting court procedure.

The best way to avoid jail time or having to appear in court is to develop a good attorney-client relationship. Avoid a conviction by contacting a reputable law firm for a free consultation. 

At The Law Offices of Andrew Nickel, we can direct you in how to answer questions related to your alleged misdemeanor or felony during your arraignment in front of a judge, as well as provide information and other legal advice. You may not even have to go to court, but contacting us early is key. We look forward to assisting you!