Shoplifting is a common criminal offense that can have formidable consequences. If you or a loved one are facing a shoplifting charge, read on for information about the legal process and how an attorney can help you beat or manage the charges.
Types of Shoplifting Charges
Shoplifting generally falls under the definitions set forth in NY Penal Law Article 155 (Larceny). If you shoplift $1,000 or less worth of items, you’re charged with petit larceny, a Class A misdemeanor. Don’t let the label of misdemeanor give you any relief – a Class A misdemeanor (shoplifting) is punishable by up to one year in jail. You could also face probation and heavy fines.
If you shoplift more than $1000 worth of items, you can be hit with a charge of grand larceny, which means higher fines, more jail time, and a felony charge on your record.
Five minutes of shoplifting could land you in hot water and make your life very difficult.
That’s where we come in! In a shoplifting case, even if it seems very cut and dry, you need a quality defense attorney on your side. Without one, you could easily be taken advantage of at any time during your arrest or arraignment.
Shoplifting Arrest and Arraignment
If you are caught shoplifting, often there is a confrontation with store employees, security, or police. You will be detained in the backroom, searched, and interrogated. They may encourage you to write a statement of guilt, sign documents (which will be legally binding, even if you don’t understand them), or pay fines. When the police arrive and bring you to the station, you will be detained and interrogated again. You’ll be fingerprinted and photographed. Your mugshot and arrest report will become publicly available online within days or even hours. You’ll receive a desk ticket informing you of when you must appear in court for your arraignment. If you fail to appear, a warrant can be issued for your arrest.
At the arraignment, you will hear a formal reading of your rights and charges. You should absolutely have an attorney at the arraignment with you. You and your lawyer will hear about the nature of your charges and the evidence that the prosecution has against you. Then your attorney can move for a dismissal, enter a plea, make other motions, or negotiate. The judge at this stage can set bail, dismiss the case, or agree to negotiations. It is imperative to have an attorney at this stage. If you plead guilty without a lawyer to advise you, you will be convicted right away and you risk receiving the harshest penalties available.
Possible Defenses to a Shoplifting Charge
If you don’t plead guilty to your charges or enter a deal, you and your attorney will go to court where your attorney will make defensive arguments and motions on your behalf. These could include:
Proving intent: A shoplifting charge requires that the alleged actor show both an intent to steal and an intent to deprive the store of the items or money owed. Your attorney could argue that your actions were accidental, ignorant, or otherwise unintended. Perhaps you accidentally walked out of the store with something and immediately attempted to pay for it upon realizing it. There would be no intent in this instance.
Challenging the witness: An unreliable witness greatly diminishes the strength of the charges. Your attorney could prove, for example, that the witness was actually not present at the store at the time of the incident or mistaken or fraudulent in their statements.
Negotiating a deal: After the arraignment the prosecution may offer you a plea deal. If you’ve gotten this far without a lawyer, be extremely careful. Plea deals may seem preferable if they eliminate the possibility of jail time, but the prosecution does not have your interests at heart. You may still be left with a criminal record and/or excessive fines. Having a lawyer is imperative because they can knowledgeably and successfully advocate for your best interests. An attorney can help you lower fines, reduce jail time, or in very specific circumstances (i.e. crimes committed because of substance abuse) seal your criminal record. If you do end up with a criminal record, a good attorney can assist you in obtaining a Certificate of Good Conduct to help mitigate some of the consequences of your criminal record.
A shoplifting charge should be taken seriously and handled professionally by an attorney with New York criminal court experience and has your best interests at heart. Mishandling or delaying in retaining an attorney could have detrimental consequences to all aspects of your life – employment, housing, finances, and immigration or travel. If you are facing a shoplifting charge in New York City, rest assured that we fit the bill with experienced, professional, and friendly attorneys ready to take your case.
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