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Charges for Shoplifting

Shoplifting, as you probably know, is a type of theft. It is a crime, which at its simplest, is an act of intentionally and wrongfully taking goods or property belonging to another without permission. The crime of shoplifting is theft from a store, and charges for shoplifting can range from a simple infraction or misdemeanor to a felony, depending on state criminal law and what you steal.

Charges for Shoplifting Can Be Serious

Sometimes shoplifting is referred to as "petty theft" or "fourth-degree theft." These are very minor crimes, usually punishable only with a fine. However, this is true only when the value of the stolen item is small, such as:

  • Costume jewelry
  • A pack of gum
  • One or two items of off-the-rack clothing
  • Small electronics like a flash drive

These small items may make the crime seem small as well. But it is the dollar value of the item that determines the charge, not its size. States differ in the exact value that elevates shoplifting to a felony, although it is typically between $50 and $500. New Jersey sets the upper limit for a minor offense at $200, and the Florida theft statutes create a tiered system where generally theft of $100 or less is a second-degree misdemeanor, while stealing merchandise valued between $100 and $300 is a first-degree misdemeanor. Anything of greater value is a felony.

This means that some of the small items listed above could result in felony shoplifting if they are of high value, such as:

  • Designer jewelry
  • Designer clothing
  • An iPhone
  • A pocketful of mp3 players

In some states, a second conviction is a mandatory felony regardless of the value of the item stolen.

Possible Sentences for Shoplifting Charges

Sentencing for a shoplifting conviction depends on the severity of the charges. For misdemeanor charges most states set punishments of up to one year in jail and a relatively small fine, often not more than $500. The exact sentence can depend on the class of misdemeanor and the existence of prior convictions. Juveniles are often eligible for lighter sentences than adults.

Felony shoplifting charges are much more serious, with the potential for several years in prison and several thousands of dollars in fines. For example, a third-degree felony in Florida is eligible for up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Even a light sentence for a shoplifting conviction will result in a criminal record unless you can get it sealed or expunged, which is not possible in all states. Having a criminal record can make things difficult for the rest of your life, especially when trying to get a job or obtaining some professional licenses.

If you have been charged with shoplifting, it is important to understand the possible consequences and to talk with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can discuss your options and might be able to help you get the charges dropped, reduced or deferred, especially if it's the first offense.