How To Know Your Rights If Caught Shoplifting

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Being caught shoplifting is embarrassing, but the consequences go well beyond feeling ashamed. Anyone who pleads guilty to shoplifting or is convicted of having committed petty theft will quickly discover that the record of this infraction can follow them for the rest of their life. Applying for college, looking for a new job or trying to obtain certain professional licenses can become difficult if not impossible with a shoplifting conviction. Knowing your rights is the best way to avoid these consequences.

Don't Make a Statement

Store security guards can be very intimidating. They might make it sound like you'll be locked up forever if you don't own up to shoplifting immediately. On the other hand, security personnel might make it sound as if they aren't going to contact the police. All you have to do is sign a statement admitting your guilt. Don't believe the security guards and don't allow yourself to be strong armed by them. In almost every instance, they will call the police and they will press charges. However, there are many methods for getting the charges against you reduced or dismissed. The first step is to avoid making any admissions to security or signing any statements.

When the Police Arrive

The police will almost inevitably be called, but it is extremely unlikely that you'll be arrested and taken to the station unless the item you're accused of stealing is particularly valuable. In most jurisdictions you'll be given a notice of infraction that looks a lot like a traffic ticket. You'll be required to make an appearance in court, usually within a few weeks to two months of the infraction.

Call a Criminal Defense Attorney

Even if you stole a small item of insignificant value, you need a defense attorney. Some people who have been accused of shoplifting think it will be easier if they just plead guilty so that the whole situation goes away. The problem is that a shoplifting conviction never just "goes away." The record stays with you forever. Accordingly, it makes sense to contact a criminal defense lawyer to protect your rights.

Defenses to Shoplifting Charges

The charges against you, and the possible consequences, will depend upon the jurisdiction. A defense lawyer can often resolve the issues with one brief meeting with the prosecuting attorney. Diversion programs and other alternatives to guilty pleas and convictions are frequently available, particularly for first time offenders.

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