Shoplifting: A Petty Crime That Can Turn into a Felony


Being one of the most frequent criminal offences, shoplifting may not be regarded as something serious according to the public eye. However, if you read what the law states you might be in for a shock – shoplifting can be classified as a misdemeanor and even a serious felony.

Shoplifting is often thought of as a petty crime – it might as well be if someone steals an item worth $5. Still, the value of the item doesn’t mean that such a deed should go unpunished – the value of the goods can only determine what a person will be tried for.

What Classifies as Shoplifting?

The definition of shoplifting is simple and clear – knowingly taking goods from another person with the intention to deprive them of their goods for personal gain.

The law recognizes five subcategories of shoplifting:

  • Taking goods without paying for them
  • Paying less by altering the price
  • Taking goods by charging someone without their permission
  • Moving goods from one container to another with the intention to take the item without paying or reduce the price
  • Concealing goods with the intention to walk off without paying

The Problems With Shoplifting Charges

Compared to some other criminal offences that can be classified as misdemeanors or felonies on the same level, shoplifting cases are mainly clear-cut.

However, even though it is not justifiable, people sometimes simply forget to pay for an item and didn’t have any intention of shoplifting. It might have ever happened to you – you take an item and you just walk through the store that you completely forget that you have it in your hand. In most such cases, honest citizens go back to the stores even if they managed to walk out of them without triggering the alarm. They explain, apologize and pay for the goods.

However, if the person is detained and says that they simply got carried away, their statement might not hold grounds. The law gives stores the right to detain and question a person they suspect of shoplifting and call upon law enforcement.

In situations where the intention of shoplifting was genuine, the person who was caught might go into panic mode and try to get away with it by becoming violent to the staff. The law allows for civilians to take actions to protect the staff and detain the offender until law enforcement comes to the scene. In such cases, the public must interfere in order to stop the offender doing any additional harm. An offender who acts in one such way might have additional charges added on top of the shoplifting charges.

Penalties for Shoplifting

Shoplifting items that do not exceed $1000 in value is regarded as a class 1 misdemeanor. There is only one exception to the rule – if the person accused of shoplifting was trying to steal a firearm. Firearm shoplifting is treated as a class 6 felony.

For shoplifting as a misdemeanor, penalties range from up to 6 months in prison, $2500 in fines with additional 84% surcharges and probation of up to three years. It is possible to completely avoid jail time if the circumstances allow that. This is usually made possible for first-time offenders who haven’t stolen items of high value or firearms.

In class 6 felony category fall charges for shoplifting a firearm or items of value over $1000 but less than $2000. Penalties for one such action are set to up to 2 years in prison. First-time offenders can be given probation to avoid jail time, but this does not come automatically but depends on the circumstances.

If caught shoplifting items at value over $2000, then the deed will be prosecuted as a class 5 felony. Incarceration time can go up to 2.5 years.

Repeated offences are viewed as class 4 felony. The punishment depends mainly on the criminal record and the details of the previous cases, but the maximum jail time can be 15 years.

First-Time Offenders

As stated, first-time offenders may be eligible for lower sentences and even potentially avoiding jail time. In some cases, it is even possible to have the charges dismissed depending on the circumstances.

Diversion programs are made available for petty shoplifters. Since shoplifting is a crime of a moral nature, the laws are leaning towards rehabilitation more than towards punishment.

If the person accused of shoplifting completes the diversion program successfully, they might have their charges dismissed. If you are a first-time offender then you might have a chance to walk away with a clear criminal record. It is of great importance to have your case assessed and taken over by an experienced criminal justice attorney who can fight to minimize the damage.

Juvenile Shoplifters

Offences committed by juveniles are always treated with more caution. Since minors are considered to not have a full scope of moral values and no capability of entirely distinguishing acceptable from damaging behavior, the law allows for their punishment to be completely orientated towards rehabilitation.

Shoplifting charges against minors are handled by juvenile court. Still, this doesn’t completely exclude the possibility for a minor to be tried as an adult. To ensure the best possible scenario from the situation is achieved, let a professional criminal justice attorney fight the case.

As petty of a crime shoplifting is, it still needs to be taken very seriously since it can have some lasting consequences on one’s life. Instead of crossing fingers and hoping for the best, have a proper legal help on your side and you might come out of this situation both wiser and consequence-free.


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