What to do if you get caught shoplifting

What to Do If You Get Caught Shoplifting


Shoplifting has a huge impact on the national economy; according to the National Retail Security Survey, this practice caused $48.9 billion in losses in 2016 alone.


Apart from its effect on the retail industry, shoplifting can have a lasting impact on alleged offenders. A citation or misdemeanor might not seem like a big deal, but it can prompt significant fines, restitution payments, probation, and a variety of other consequences. What’s more, offenders often face lifetime bans from certain stores – and they can be charged with trespassing if they fail to abide by them.


Unfortunately, difficulties don’t end after a sentence for shoplifting has been served. While many states have proposed to ban the box initiatives, employers continue to discriminate against applicants with even the most minor criminal histories. Likewise, landlords and apartment management companies tend to shy away from applicants who have been charged with theft – even if they’ve kept out of trouble in the years following their arrest.


Given the steep consequences of shoplifting, it’s critical that you take action in the aftermath of your arrest. 


What Happens If I Get Caught Shoplifting?

How your shoplifting ordeal plays out will largely depend on where, and under what circumstances you are arrested. Large retailers, in particular, warrant caution. Many devote significant time and personnel to anti-theft efforts. 


Security guards or other employees may be responsible for pulling you aside before you leave the store and detaining you until the police arrive. Many, however, try to hide their intentions of involving law enforcement. You may be asked to make a statement about your shoplifting activity or sign a form admitting your guilt. Security personnel may claim that, upon completing these seemingly harmless steps, you will be released with minimal consequences.


In reality, retail outlets regularly press charges against alleged shoplifters. If you confess or make a statement before police officers arrive, or before you have the chance to speak with an attorney, you risk inadvertently incriminating yourself.


What Happens When the Police Arrive?

If and when the police arrive, further action will depend on the circumstances surrounding the alleged theft – including the value of the item or items you are believed to have stolen. Your criminal history can also play a role in what happens next. 


In most cases, police officers will not arrest alleged shoplifters on the spot or transport them to a police station. Instead, they will most likely provide notice of assigned infractions that resemble traffic tickets. From there, you may be asked to make an appearance in court. This could occur anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after the alleged incident.


The Importance of Working With a Criminal Law Attorney

A citation or infraction may not seem like a big deal, but it could have a detrimental impact on your future. What’s more, some shoplifting cases are charged as misdemeanors, or, in select cases, felonies. In such situations, strong legal representation is essential.


Your attorney can provide a valuable shield against potentially damaging questions, thereby ensuring that you do not accidentally incriminate yourself. Later, your lawyer can gather evidence to help you prove your case. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident and your legal strategy, your attorney may be able to reduce the charges against you or get them dropped altogether.


The Value of Expungement

If your case ultimately ends in a conviction, it may still be possible to minimize the damage. Expungement could be well within reach if you maintain a clean record in the aftermath of your shoplifting arrest. 


The expungement process will differ somewhat from one state to the next; in general, petitions for expungement must be filed several years after the successful completion of the state’s probation program. The court may then set a hearing date. If successful, records of the incident may be sealed, making them far more difficult for potential employers, landlords, or other individuals to access. An experienced criminal law attorney can dramatically improve your likelihood of successfully obtaining an expungement.


As you navigate the fallout of a shoplifting arrest, it’s important to consider not only the immediate prospect of dealing with law enforcement but also the big picture. How you approach this ordeal now can determine its long-term impact. With the proper resources in your corner, it’s possible to keep damage to a minimum and, hopefully, move forward with a clean slate.