Under Pennsylvania law, retail theft (or shoplifting as it is commonly known) can be generally defined as depriving a merchant of the possession, use, or benefit of merchandise without paying full retail value. Shoplifting is often thought of as a small crime committed by kids and teenagers who do not know any better. Unfortunately, our retail theft lawyers know that Pennsylvania law does not see it that way, especially if the accused shoplifter is a repeat offender or the merchandise has a high dollar value.
Shoplifting convictions can be very damaging, especially high grade convictions. In addition to the criminal consequences for a shoplifting conviction, other consequences include the troubles that go along with a conviction popping up every time a background check is run for things like school applications and potential employment.
Types of retail theft
Retail theft can occur in a number of different ways. As mentioned above, Pennsylvania law defines it as depriving a merchant of the possession, use, or benefit without paying full retail value of the merchandise which is applies to the following such scenarios:
- Switching price tags so that the price paid for merchandise is lower than its actual value.
- Employees may look at it as a job perk, but if an employer’s merchandise is taken by an employee without permission, it is shoplifting.
- Removing security devices from merchandise can be used as evidence of intent to steal.
- Underpinning is considered theft and occurs when employees give friends or family discounts or free merchandise.
- Removing merchandise from one container and putting it into a lower priced container in order to pay less than the full retail value.
Pennsylvania retail theft charges
Retail theft can range from a summary offense to a misdemeanor or felony depending on the cost of the stolen merchandise and the number of the defendant’s prior convictions. The lowest summary offense is for theft of merchandise worth under $150 and no prior conviction, resulting in up to 90 days in jail and up to a $300 fine. On the other end, theft of over $2,000 or theft of a firearm may result in a 3rd degree felony with up to seven years in jail and up to a $15,000 fine.
Defending a retail theft case
When defending a retail theft case, attorneys will review police reports, prosecution’s evidence, and witness statements. They will look for inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and for conduct that violates a defendant’s rights such as an illegal search or Miranda violations. Attorneys will help to present the defendant’s case by raising appropriate defenses such as providing evidence that the defendant did not commit the crime or that the defendant took the item by accident with no intent to possess it or keep it. Good attorneys may also negotiate with prosecutors for lesser charges and facilitate a diversion program for the defendant in order to avoid a criminal record.