Why This Article Can Help You if You Are Charged with Retail Theft
Have you been charged with Shoplifting in Bucks County? This article provides information about the legal consequences you will face after the police file shoplifting charges. In it, I explain the court process, the collateral consequences of a shoplifting arrest, and the legal burden of proof required for a shoplifting conviction.
Where are Most Shoplifting Charges Filed In Bucks County?
Shoplifting crimes are among the most commonly charged offenses in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Neshaminy Mall and the Oxford Valley Mall account for a significant number of retail theft cases in Bucks County. As a consequence, the police file most retail theft charges in the Bensalem District Courts and the Levittown District Court, which are near these malls.
How is a Retail Theft Charge Proven?
In most retail theft charges filed in Bucks County, the prosecutor must prove the legal element of intent. In other words, the prosecutor must prove that you have took, transferred, concealed or altered merchandise with the intent of not paying for the item(s). Proving that you had the intent to steal is difficult in cases which:
- You inadvertently leave merchandise inside or underneath a shopping cart; or
- You are merely present with others who are shoplifting.
Can I be Charged with Shoplifting if I Never Left the Store?
It depends on the circumstances of your case. In some situations, a person may be charged with retail theft, even if they did not physically leave the store. Before concluding that a shoplifting crime has taken place, the store’s loss prevention employees will examine several factors. These factors may include:
- Was the merchandise concealed on your person or in the shopping cart?
- Did you pass all of the store’s registers without paying for the merchandise?
- Were you in possession of a high-value store item (e.g., large HD-TV)?
- Did the store security recognize you from a previous theft incident in the store?
- Did your movements activate the store’s electronic security alarm?
Loss Prevention Associates Can Make Mistakes
A store’s loss prevention employees do not have backgrounds in law enforcement. Therefore, they often make snap judgements to detain a suspected shoplifter before they have sufficient evidence that a shoplifting crime has occurred. Additionally, most loss prevention specialists do not receive significant legal training before the retail store hires them.
Will I be Charged for a Minor Theft?
Probably not. Most major retail stores will not prosecute retail theft crimes involving merchandise valued at less than $25. For example, Walmart does not prosecute first-time adult offenders apprehended for stealing merchandise with a value of less than $25. Most major retail chains instruct their employees to issue a warning to a suspect accused of petty theft instead of calling the police. Most larger retail stores prefer to focus on employee theft and organized retail theft. Both categories account for the majority of retail thefts from their stores.
Can I be Sued if I am Arrested for Shoplifting?
Yes. Many retail chains will pursue a civil claim against persons accused of shoplifting in their stores. In most cases, after your arrest, you can expect to receive a demand letter from a law firm representing the retailer after your arrest. You will likely be asked to pay a civil collection fee of approximately $200 in exchange for the store’s agreement to drop the lawsuit. However, the retail stores rarely pursue the civil penalty even if you do not pay the collection fee.
Can a Store Permanently Ban Me After a Shoplifting Arrest?
Yes. Some retail stores, including Walmart, will issue a “Notification of Restriction from Property Notice” to people caught shoplifting in their stores. The letter acts as a lifetime eviction notice from all the store’s locations, as well as subsidiary stores. Unfortunately, some prosecutors will add trespassing charges to a retail theft case if the subject is subject to a restriction from property letter. A conviction for the additional crime of trespassing can result in a longer jail sentence or an extended probationary sentence.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I am only Facing Shoplifting Charges?
In most cases, yes. Representing yourself in a criminal matter is almost always an unwise. An experienced local criminal defense attorney will have a thorough understanding of the rules of evidence and the government’s legal burden of proof in a retail theft case. Also, an experienced attorney can address the many legal issues that may arise in the course of a shoplifting case, including:
- Requesting a dismissal of the charges when the store employees fail to appear for court
- Contesting the value of the allegedly stolen merchandise
- Challenging the grading of the retail theft charges
- Challenging the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence
Will I Face Jail Time for a First-Offense Retail Theft in Bucks County?
In most cases, no. Fortunately, the majority of adult and juvenile retail theft offenders are eligible for a first-time offender pre-trial diversion program. The available first-offender programs for juveniles facing retail theft charges include informal adjustment and a consent decree.
Can I avoid a Criminal Record If I am Charged with Shoplfting?
In many cases, yes. Most adult first-time offenders are eligible for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) or the Community Accountability Program (CAP). Unfortunately, most felony-graded retail theft charges will not qualify for the ARD or CAP programs. Therefore, if you find yourself in this situation, you must hire an attorney who will work to reach an agreement with the district attorney for reduced charges and a probationary sentence. All of the first-offender programs provide for dismissal and expungement of the retail theft charges upon successful completion of the program’s conditions.
A retail theft arrest or conviction-even if it’s a first-time offense-can have serious legal consequences. Those consequences can have a devastating on your reputation and future opportunities. Therefore, you must understand your rights as your case moves through the criminal court process. An experienced local attorney can advise you of the most effective approach to successfully resolve your charges.
Contact an Experienced Bucks County Retail Theft Attorney
I have over a decade of experience providing skilled representation to individuals charged with retail theft in Bucks County, PA. Contact me if you or a loved one is facing a retail theft charge. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends. Call today for a free consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.