Shoplifting is the act of stealing from a store while pretending to be a customer. This is also referred to informally as a ‘five finger discount’, or boosting. The store must be open for business at the time of the crime for it to be considered shoplifting; stealing from a closed store would be considered burglary.
What constitutes Shoplifting?
Shoplifting is quite simply, purposefully taking merchandise without paying for it. Some examples of shoplifting:
- Concealing something from the store on your person, or in a bag. It is important to note that you do not have to actually leave the store to be arrested for shoplifting. As soon as you pass the registers you can be detained by store security. This is the most common form of shoplifting.
- Moving things into another container in order to avoid paying for them (For example, placing a pair of earrings in the pocket of a pair of jeans, but only paying for the jeans). This is another common form of shoplifting.
- Grabbing an item and making a dash for it. This happens more often than you would think (e.g., beer runs). Obviously, making a run for it brings attention to you and makes it pretty clear that you are purposefully trying to take the goods without paying for them.
- Switching or altering the price tag. Another pretty common scheme. Unlike making a run for it, you can claim mistake and it is at least somewhat believable.
What are some possible penalties for Shoplifting?
Depending on the value of the goods stolen and the circumstances of the theft, Shoplifting can be considered a misdemeanor or a felony. Often, shoplifting is considered a misdemeanor, but the charge can be a felony one if:
- Value of the goods was over $1,000:
- $1,000 to $2,000 = class 6 felony.
- $2000 and over = class 5 felony.
- You stole a gun, regardless of value = class 6 felony
- You stole as part of gang activity = class 5 felony
- Previous convictions for shoplifting, robbery, or theft (2 or more within 5 years) = class 4 felony.
- You used a container or other device as part of the shoplifting. This is a recent addition to the law and it has major ramifications. Now if you put the items in a bag, or even your pocket, it is a felony. This is regardless of the value of the item. This is a class 4 felony (higher than if you stole a gun!).
- You shoplift with someone else. This is considered Organized Retail Theft (See ARS 13-1819) and considered a class 4 felony. See an example of this type of case here.
Misdemeanor charges can lead to up to six months in jails, fines of up to $2,500, and years of probation. Felony charges are more serious and carry heavier penalties, including up to a year in jail and fines of up to $150,000. For a class 6 felony the prison sentence can be up to 2 years. For a class 5 felony the prison time can be up to 2.5 years. For a class 4 felony the prison time can be up to 3.75 years.
It’s important to realize that you can also be sued in a civil (as opposed to criminal) court, as the store or merchant may attempt to recoup the loss.
What should you do if you are accused of Shoplifting?
These charges should be taken very seriously, as you could be facing years of probation and jail or prison time, as well as fines. If you are arrested and charged with shoplifting, the first thing to remember is to exercise your right to remain silent. Your best defense is that this was just a mistake and you did not mean to take the items (that defense doesn’t work if you run). But you don’t have to talk to the police. And you shouldn’t try to talk your way out of it with them (or the store personnel). They will not believe you and you run the risk of saying the wrong thing and only making your situation worse. You should be polite, but do not talk about these charges at all. Instead, ask to speak to an attorney. This will end the interrogation and make sure that your rights are upheld. You will also need to make sure you have a great criminal defense attorney who can help you make sure you have someone on your side as you navigate the legal defense system.