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Every state in the United States has different criminal statutes that outline different crimes and penalties. Crimes can also be prosecuted on a federal level when an individual breaks federal laws. There are dozens of different theft crimes of different severities, and the nuance is slightly different at each state level. Some states have specific legal definitions of the term “shoplifting.” Other states don’t have any crimes that specifically refer to shoplifting, but have crimes that a shoplifter might be charged with instead.
Shoplifting is a term for a very specific context of theft. When a person shoplifts, they generally steal property from another individual, business, organization, or other entity. The person may take the property themselves, which is called larceny. If the person has property they know is stolen, the crime is criminally possessing stolen property. Shoplifting might occur when a person deprives another of their rightful property, removes property from a business without paying for it, or otherwise wrongfully takes property that does not belong to them. Even if the individual didn’t actually actively steal the property from the original owner, knowingly possessing stolen property is a form of shoplifting.
If you have been accused of any theft crimes related to shoplifting, you should talk to your theft attorney right away. Whether you’ve been arrested or simply questioned by authorities, it’s vital that you get the protection of legal counsel. Everything you say to law enforcement will be used to build a case against you, even if you don’t think it’s incriminating. Instead of talking to the police, tell them that you want your lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you on what information you should or should not impart to the law enforcement officials.
One of the most important aspects of a shoplifting crime is that it involves physical property rather than money. If you use a credit card that doesn’t belong to you or steal money from someone’s wallet, that’s still a theft crime. But it isn’t defined as shoplifting. On the other hand, if you remove food from a store or take clothing from a business without having purchased it, this is a form of shoplifting. Even if you haven’t removed the property from the premises of the store yet, it’s possible to get arrested for shoplifting while you’re still inside.
The circumstances can be complicated when an arrest occurs before an individual has left the store premises. Since they haven’t taken the items from the store yet, they haven’t technically committed a theft. However, they may have a reasonable amount of evidence indicating that they intended to commit a theft. For example, they might have stuffed merchandise into a zippered bag where it can’t be seen, or they might have changed into store clothes and taken the tags off like they intended to walk out wearing them.
Some individuals might use distraction or forgetfulness as an excuse. In fact, for some, this might be completely true. You might not have had any intention of shoplifting and have instead just been the victim of unfortunate implications. However, if you looked suspicious enough for the store owner to notify the police, there’s a good chance your excuse won’t be believed. If you are arrested before you’ve left the store, tell the arresting officer that you will not speak without your legal counsel present. Depending on the surrounding circumstances, your attorney may be able to get charges dropped due to a lack of evidence. Your lawyer will have a much easier time helping to get the charges dropped if you don’t say things that incriminate you to the police officer.
Stealing property is considered shoplifting. In the state of New York, where there is no specific shoplifting crime, you might be charged with a variety of more specific crimes at your arraignment. Some of the potential charges include:
Each of these crimes has different degrees and potential for consequences. Some of the crimes are classified as misdemeanors, while more serious actions can lead to a felony charge.
When a person is arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting in New York City, the prosecution often takes the form of Desk Appearance Tickets. These tickets are technically still arrests, but they have a certain amount of extra freedom. All the same, you will still receive an official charge of a crime and be fingerprinted for the criminal database.
A shoplifting crime is considered a misdemeanor when the value of the stolen items comes out to $1,000 or less. If you’re charged with stealing property that is worth more than $1,000 in total, the theft becomes a felony charge. The exact degree of felony depends on exactly how much the property was worth.