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Can a Customer Get Arrested and Sent to Prison for Shoplifting?


Modern or accurate shoplifting statistics are hard to find, but according to the most recent data, 10 to 11% of people have shoplifted at some point. Since it’s a common crime, most first-time offenders will receive a slap on the wrist unless the offender steals high-valued products.

How to Defend Yourself Against a Shoplifting Accusation

Before we examine whether a person could get sent to prison for shoplifting, you’ll need to know what to do if you were accused of shoplifting. People shoplift for many reasons, but these reasons don’t often sway judges. What can determine guilt is the intent behind the crime.

In most cases, shoplifting is a fourth-degree crime or lower, but it travels into the fourth-degree if the accused shoplifts merchandise with a value between $200 and $500. In these cases, you’re better off hiring a local lawyer to defend you. Not only can it be difficult for civilians to navigate the court system, but it also gives you the highest chance of walking away free.

If you live in Middlesex County, New Jersey, for example, you can consult the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall. Their lawyers can provide an expert defense for fourth-degree crimes.

But what types of defenses can you make against these crimes?:

  • No Intent to Steal: The person realizes they’ve stolen but intends to return the merchandise. Before they do, they’re charged with a shoplifting conviction.
  • The Item was Concealed by Accident: It’s entirely possible for someone to place merchandise in their bag without thinking, making this a possible defense.
  • Faulty Self-Checkout Machines: A person may have used a self-checkout machine and didn’t properly scan all the items, which would be classified as unintended theft.

The defense your lawyer will use depends on the circumstances of the crime. If you have any evidence to prove your innocence, be sure to present that to your lawyer as soon as possible.

The Consequences of Shoplifting and Shoplifting Charges

As stated, the consequences of shoplifting depend on the nature of the crime. The customer may receive a harsher penalty if they steal from an expensive clothing brand or a jeweler.

Can Customers Get a Fine for Shoplifting?

The most common consequence of a shoplifting charge is a fine. Many state shoplifting laws say they can receive a maximum fine of $1,000. However, first-time shoplifters may only pay a hundred dollars. The fine will be higher if the product they stole was considered high-valued.

Can Customers Enter a Diversion Program?

If the value of the item was low or it was their first shoplifting charge, then they may be able to enter a diversion program. These programs can keep the shoplifting charge off their permanent record. To enter a diversion program, they need to complete tasks decided by the courts.

Are Customers Required to Pay Restitutions?

It depends on the crime, but customers who are convicted of a shoplifting charge may have to pay restitution to the business they stole from. To request restitution, the business has to send a civil demand letter to the accused that demands payment for any loss the store has incurred.

Can the Judge Impose Probation on the Customer?

The customer may receive probation, but the accused has to have first committed a crime that lands them in jail or prison. The accused is likely to get probation if they have a prior conviction for a theft charge or a criminal history that involves other related or unrelated offenses.

Can the Customer Spend Time in Jail or Prison?

Unless the accused has a long criminal history, it’s unlikely they’ll be sent to prison for a shoplifting charge. However, they may end up in jail for less than a year, but the item stolen must be worth an exceptional amount. In these cases, the crime is considered a misdemeanor.

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