Retailers in the state of New York are serious about preventing shoplifting and about prosecuting shoplifting suspects. At many retail locations in this state, everyone is being watched. If you act or even appear suspicious, it’s conceivable that you could be accused of shoplifting.

If you are charged with shoplifting in New York, what steps do you need to take? How can a criminal defense law firm defend yourself against a shoplifting charge? What penalties could you face if you are convicted of shoplifting?

WHAT MIGHT BE CONSIDERED SUSPICIOUS BEHAVIOR IN A STORE?

It cannot be emphasized strongly enough – you really must try to avoid any behavior that might look “suspicious” when you’re shopping.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Don’t put unpaid-for merchandise into a bag or into anything else. Keep it visible.
  • Don’t take unpaid-for merchandise into a retailer’s restrooms.
  • Don’t take paid-for merchandise into another store unless you have the receipt.

Security Officers

Try not to remain in any retail store for more than an hour. It’s sad but true. Even if you are just innocently checking out merchandise, you will attract the attention of a store detective or a security officer.

WHY ARE RETAILERS SO AGGRESSIVE AGAINST SHOPLIFTERS?

You are absolutely right. You should not have to adhere to special rules just to go shopping.

But shoplifting is one of New York’s most frequently-committed crimes, retailers both large and small are justifiably suspicious of almost everyone, and security guards who don’t nab shoplifting suspects look like they aren’t doing their jobs.

WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR SHOPLIFTING CONVICTIONS IN NEW YORK?

Shoplifting in New York is charged either as petit larceny (a misdemeanor) or as grand larceny (a felony) depending on the value of the allegedly shoplifted merchandise. Listed here are the precise charges and penalties.

Handcuffs And Legal Books

For merchandise valued at:

  • less than $1,000, the charge is a misdemeanor punishable upon conviction with up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000
  • $1,000 to $3,000, the charge is a Class E felony punishable upon conviction with a fine and a four-year prison term
  • $3,000 to $50,000, the charge is a Class D felony punishable upon conviction with a fine and a seven-year prison term
  • $50,000 to $1 million, the charge is a Class C felony punishable upon conviction with a fine and a fifteen-year prison term
  • $1 million or more, the charge is a Class B felony punishable upon conviction with a fine and a twenty-five-year prison term

CAN RETAILERS SUE SHOPLIFTERS?

Criminal penalties are not the only penalties that can arise from a shoplifting conviction. Convicted shoplifters (or their parents or guardians, if they’re minors) can also be targeted with civil lawsuits by victimized retailers.

However, if you are charged with shoplifting and you shortly thereafter receive a letter from the retailer’s attorney demanding some type of payment, share that letter promptly with your defense attorney. Especially if you are innocent of the charge, don’t let yourself be bullied or intimidated.

Shoplifters rarely steal over $1,000 worth of merchandise in a single incident, so most shoplifting charges in New York are petty larceny charges – misdemeanors.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO CONVICT SOMEONE OF SHOPLIFTING?

But if you are the person who is charged with shoplifting, whether the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony, you must be advised and represented – immediately – by an experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney.

Here’s what the state must prove to convict someone of shoplifting:

  • The defendant intentionally possessed and/or intentionally concealed an item that was for sale and was not yet paid for.
  • The defendant intended to deprive the owner of the shoplifted merchandise permanently without offering payment.

WHAT’S THE CENTRAL ISSUE IN MOST SHOPLIFTING CASES?

Almost everyone has “absent-mindedly” walked out of a store – without paying for an item – while daydreaming or distracted, so the defendant’s intent is often the central issue in a shoplifting case.

Maybe you simply forgot to pay for some merchandise. You may have thought the merchandise was yours, and in fact, maybe it was. Some people have even been arrested for “shoplifting” what was in fact already their property.

Courthouse

The state cannot convict someone of shoplifting unless it can prove that the shoplifting was intentional. If a store video shows you looking both ways before shoving merchandise into your pants or purse, or if you are part of an organized shoplifting gang, a conviction is likely.

But in the typical shoplifting case, intent can be difficult to prove, and a good criminal defense lawyer can often argue effectively that the state does not have enough evidence for a shoplifting conviction.

ARE THERE OTHER LEGAL DEFENSES AGAINST A SHOPLIFTING CHARGE?

Some persons charged with shoplifting have been victims of mistaken identity because they resembled someone caught shoplifting by a store security camera. In other cases, no shoplifting happened at all, and the entire incident was one big misunderstanding.

However, if you are in fact guilty of shoplifting, don’t presume that you’ll be treated with leniency by a New York criminal court because the charge against you is a misdemeanor or a first offense.

WHAT WILL CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAW FIRMS DO TO HELP YOU?

You are very much going to need the help of a criminal defense lawyer who has substantial experience – and a record of success – representing defendants who are charged with shoplifting.

An experienced Westchester County criminal defense attorney can review the details of a shoplifting charge and craft the defense strategy that will bring the case against a shoplifting defendant to its best possible conclusion.

Defense Attorney

Don’t simply plead guilty to a shoplifting charge. Even if the state’s case against you is strong and a conviction is probable, a good defense lawyer may be able to negotiate an acceptable plea bargain or arrange for reduced or alternative sentencing.

WHEN SHOULD YOU CONTACT A TOP-RATED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER?

If you’re a parent and your child is charged with shoplifting in New York, contact a criminal defense attorney at once.

As mentioned previously, shoplifting is one of the most frequently committed crimes, and when you shop in New York, you will probably be elbow-to-elbow with people who are shoplifting. That’s why the cameras and store detectives are there.

If you’re arrested for shoplifting in New York – because of an overzealous security guard, a fuzzy store video, or even if you are in fact guilty – get an attorney’s help at once.

That’s your right. If you’re charged with shoplifting, your freedom and future may hinge on exercising that right – promptly.

By: Kimberly Pelesz

Family law and criminal defense attorney Kimberly A. Pelesz received a B.S. degree magna cum laude and an M.P.A. degree summa cum laude from Binghamton University. She earned her J.D. from Pace University School of Law in White Plains, where she was selected for Phi Alpha Delta. Her charitable activities include work with My Sisters’ Place in White Plains and the Westchester County District Attorney’s Humane Education Taskforce.

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