Theft, Shoplifting and Concealment are class one misdemeanors with a maximum sentence of one (1) year in jail and a $2500 fine. Theft is the taking of property with the intention to permanently deprive the rightful owner of its use. Shoplifting is the same thing with the exception that it occurs in a commercial establishment such as a Department Store. Concealment is also a theft offense (also called a Larceny offense) as well and involves concealing the property at issue whether removed from the store or not. For Petit Theft the value of the property must be less than $200. If the theft is greater than $200 the crime is elevated to a felony and will be discussed separately. Very often these cases will have an additional charge of Possession of Burglary Tools if any type of instrument is used to conceal the property such as a shopping bag, pliers, wire cutters or other tools. This charge is a felony and will be discussed separately.
These cases are difficult because often the crime is caught on video in the large department stores that are equipped with anti-theft devices and even in some smaller stores like 7-11. Video is becoming more and more prevalent as evidence for the prosecution. In addition Loss Prevention Officers employed by stores are becoming better trained and more aggressive in building a case for prosecution. They often will obtain oral or written confessions from suspects before the arrival of the police. They, unlike the police, are not required to warn a suspect of his or her Constitutional rights against making statements and can be very aggressive in obtaining these statements.
There are some defenses to these charges particularly if you are charged because you were with someone else that was arrested for this crime. Often you may be charged as well even if you did not take anything yourself. There may be problems with any statements made to the Loss Prevention Officers or the police. There can be defenses even with video recordings if there are issues of accuracy or authenticity. In addition there can be problems with the Chain of Evidence of the property taken. Some of these issues require a Motion to Suppress. This is a hearing that challenges the Constitutionality of the evidence that is being presented. An example of this type of hearing might be to challenge statements that were made by you. These hearing can be separate from the trial or heard at the time of the trial depending on the circumstances. The rules of evidence are strictly applied and usually involve sophisticated legal concepts which require a review of case law and the use of other research tools.
There are also alternatives to a conviction to this charge depending on certain circumstances. One alternative is the community based counseling and community service program. This requires that you be placed on a type of probation which requires you to do community service (usually 50 to 100 hours), be of good behavior and agree to abide by any other requirements set out by the Court. The end result is a dismissal of the charge after a period of time. This alternative is only for first offenders. If you are not a first offender there are other programs that can lead to the same result but these programs are more difficult to get into and they are at the discretion of the Court. A consultation with an attorney can help to evaluate your case and determine what the best course of action would be best for your situation.