Shoplifting Fine: How Much Can You Expect?
Published August 23, 2021
Shoplifting is one of the most common theft crimes in the country. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 11 people will shoplift at some point in their lives. Yet, only very few of these shoplifting cases were caught and subsequently punished.
That doesn’t mean, however, that shoplifting is not taken seriously. Shoplifting fines might be negligible in most cases and not as severe as those of other theft crimes. But shoplifting is still a punishable crime nonetheless and it can go on your record. In recent years, retailers have even called for more severe punishment for shoplifting.
If you or someone you know were caught shoplifting, here’s what you need to know.
What Counts as Shoplifting?
According to the dictionary, shoplifting is the criminal action of stealing goods from a store while pretending to be a customer. But in legal terms, there are several ways to commit shoplifting other than taking goods from a retail establishment.
Under the law, for a crime to be considered shoplifting, it must have these two basic elements:
- intentionally concealing or taking possession of goods offered for sale without paying its full price;
- the intent to deprive the item’s rightful owner (usually the store) of possession of the item and taking steps to satisfy that intent
This means that even if you were not able to leave the store with the stolen goods, the mere attempt can count as shoplifting. This includes acts like:
- hiding or concealing an item in your person while still inside the store (like putting it in your pocket or your purse)
- altering price tags
- removing security tags and other anti-theft devices (or any attempt thereof)
- removing an item from its packaging
- concealing the item among other merchandise
(Related: 7 Most Common Felonies in the US as per Statistics)
Punishment for Shoplifting
Shoplifting laws vary per state. But in general, the severity of the punishment depends on the amount of the goods stolen and the shoplifter’s offense record.
Most states give prosecutors the freedom to choose what charges to press. This means they get to decide whether the shoplifting case is a mere infraction or a full-on felony.
Some states like California set a cap on the amount of merchandise stolen for the crime to be considered shoplifting. Under California’s penal code, you can only be charged for shoplifting if you stole or intend to steal $950 worth of merchandise or less. In other states, the threshold is much less. If the stolen goods exceed that amount, the charge can elevate to burglary or robbery which carries a harsher punishment.
Aside from its amount, the type of item stolen will also matter. If the shoplifted items involve firearms, it won’t anymore be considered shoplifting. Instead, the offender will be charged with gun theft or other equivalent felony charges.
A shoplifter’s prior conviction record can also affect the severity of the crime. If the offender had been convicted of theft crimes or other types of felony, a simple shoplifting offense can easily become a misdemeanor or felony.
How Much Shoplifting Fine Can You Expect To Pay?
As mentioned, each state treats shoplifting offenses differently. But most impose a fine for shoplifting offenses. Depending on your state and the severity of your offense, you can expect to pay a shoplifting fine of anywhere from $200 to as much as $30,000.
In California, for example, a shoplifting offense charged as a misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to $1,000. If the crime is elevated to a felony, the fine can go up to $10,000. In Alabama, the fines are much steeper. A fourth-degree theft – the lowest theft offense level – can be fined as much as $6,000.
But aside from government-imposed fines, shoplifters also usually have to pay for civil damages.
Civil Liability for Shoplifting
In a nutshell, civil liability is a legal obligation that requires a person to pay for damages or other court-ordered payments. In most states, a shoplifting crime may also involve civil liability. But this is only applicable if the store owner files a civil case against the shoplifter.
The laws vary per state but in general, a shoplifter’s civil liability includes:
- payment for the full value of the items stolen
- financial losses the store owner incurred as a result of the theft
- reimbursement of the store owner’s legal fees
If a minor committed the shoplifting offense, the parents or guardians would be included in the civil liability too. Though in some states, foster parents can be exempted from this liability.
Can You Go to Prison for Shoplifting?
Yes, you can go to prison for shoplifting. In most states, shoplifting is punishable by fines or imprisonment, or both. This is especially true for shoplifting offenses that are misdemeanor or felony.
If the shoplifting is charged as a misdemeanor, the prison sentence can be anywhere from three months to a year. But if it’s a felony, the prison sentence may last from at least a year to 25 years.
If you want to reduce your shoplifting fine or appeal for a more lenient prison sentence, hiring a criminal defense lawyer may help.
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