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Things to Know When Caught Shoplifting in New York

Shoplifting is a crime in New York, and whether it is charged as a misdemeanor or felony depends on the value of the property allegedly shoplifted.

Shoplifting Can be a Misdemeanor or a Felony

Shoplifting is generally described as the unlawful taking of property and merchandise in a retail establishment without paying for it.

If the value of the stolen property is less than $1000, shoplifting is charged as petit larceny which is a class A misdemeanor in New York. A class A misdemeanor can result in up to one year in jail, fines, and other penalties.

If the value of the stolen property is greater than $1000, the shoplifter will be charged with grand larceny. Grand larceny is a felony and the felony class depends on the value of the property shoplifted.

  • Fourth Degree Grand Larceny (E felony) – $1001 to $3000
  • Third Degree Grand Larceny (D felony) – $3000 to $50,000

Examples of property that can be shoplifted can range from shoes and other clothes that are in the hundreds or thousands of dollars to artwork that can be valued at tens of thousands of dollars.

A first-time offender of 4th degree grand larceny can be sentenced from one to four years in prison, while that of 3rddegree grand larceny can receive a penalty ranging from two to seven years in prison.

Aside from the penalties, convictions for shoplifting can result to a criminal record, difficulties in obtaining employment or housing, disciplinary action for those with professional licenses, and damage to reputation.

Usually, however, attorneys of first-time offenders can employ various legal strategies that can result to a dismissal, non-conviction, or reduction of charge or penalty.

What to Do if Detained for or Charged with Shoplifting

If you have been accused of shoplifting in New York, you may want to consider the following:

  1. If you have been detained by security personnel for shoplifting, it is important to stay calm and provide identification, if requested.
    • Do not, however, confess or admit to any wrongdoing. Remember that you have the right to remain silent.
    • Some establishments in New York can detain persons who they think have shoplifted even when such person has not even left the establishment and still had the opportunity to pay for the merchandise. If this has happened, you may have a strong defense, and for this reason, it is important to remain silent until your attorney appears.
    • Security guards may employ a number of tactics to get you to confess, such as intimidation and threats, or by telling you that they will not call the police if you confess. Ignore these threats to extort a confession because you always have the right to remain silent.
  1. Do not admit to the commission of any wrong or sign any statements or documents, even if the police are present, without first consulting with your attorney.
    • If the police are simply inviting you for questioning, you are not required to go nor are you required to make any statement of some sort. Remain silent until your attorney arrives because anything you say can be used against you.
    • If the police are investigating you as a suspect, they must read you your Miranda rights. Otherwise, anything you say can be considered inadmissible.
  1. Gather evidence that can help your defense. Take note of possible witnesses and get their numbers and addresses. Keep receipts and other documentation that can show that you did not intend to steal the merchandise in question.
  1. Get the services of a criminal defense shoplifting attorney. Navigating a criminal charge on your own might save you money, but may not result to a dismissal of the case and can result to expensive lifetime consequences. Seek legal representation as soon as possible.

Possible Legal Defenses to Shoplifting

There are a few potential defenses you can use in case you have been charged with shoplifting. Your shoplifting criminal defense attorney will know which defense is appropriate, given the unique circumstances of your case.

  1. Lack of intent

Intent is important in getting a conviction for shoplifting. If you did not intend to steal the merchandise and deprive the owner of the property, there can be no conviction.

For example, you paid for your shopping, but you left an item in the shopping cart that you did not notice. While leaving the store, the alarm goes off. You can raise the defense that you did not intend to shoplift such item and that you just did not notice it in your cart when leaving the store.

  1. Mistaken identity

In New York, shoplifters are sometimes allowed to leave the establishment, even if the store personnel notice that the person has been shoplifting. Some companies have an internal policy requiring security guards not to confront shoplifters but instead to alert the security company and the police of shoplifting activity. This policy may be due to the fact that store owners do not want to escalate the situation and that the merchandise stolen is insured.

For this reason, one of the possible defenses in a shoplifting charge is mistaken identity. A person may be wrongfully mistaken for someone else who has shoplifted, especially since security cameras can be unclear. If you can show that you could not have been present in the store at the time of the alleged theft, you can have a defense based on mistaken identity.

  1. Improper detention

If security or store personnel unlawfully detained you without probable cause or using excessive force, any evidence that acquired as a result of such detention can be suppressed, and without the shoplifted property as evidence, any charge for shoplifting might be dismissed.

Above are just a few possible defenses for shoplifting. Your criminal defense attorney will be able to provide a more appropriate legal strategy for the defense, given the unique circumstances of your case.

Possible Legal Strategies to Obtain Dismissal or Reduce the Sentence

Plea bargaining refers to the negotiation process between the defendant and the prosecutor regarding the charge. More often than not, it is the defendant’s attorney who negotiates with the prosecutor for a reduced sentence or lesser charge. Plea bargaining depends on the severity of the offense, the amount of stolen property, whether the defendant is a first time offender, and the strength of the prosecution’s evidence.

Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal

One of the best options to take is Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) under New York Criminal Procedure Law § 170.55.

ACD is a type of legal disposition, done upon or after arraignment and before entry of guilty plea or commencement of trial, allowing the court to adjourn the case for a certain period of time, usually six months to one year. During this period, the defendant is required to comply with certain conditions, such as completing community service or attending counseling. If these conditions are completed, the charges will be dismissed and the defendant will not have a criminal record.

Prosecutors have the discretion to grant or deny ACDs. The prosecutor will usually consider the following factors in determining whether to grant or deny a request for ACD: the value of the stolen property, whether the defendant has any prior criminal record, and the strength of the evidence against the defendant.

Reduction of Charges

The defendant’s attorney and prosecutor can also negotiate to reduce the charge from grand larceny to petit larceny, which carries less severe penalties.

Reduced Sentence

The prosecutor may agree to reduce the sentence in exchange for a guilty plea.

Dismissal of charges

The prosecutor may agree to dismiss the charges if the evidence is weak and the defendant agrees to certain conditions, such as not doing it again.

Your criminal defense attorney will know which specific plea bargaining strategy to employ, depending on the unique circumstances of your case.

Sealing Your Record in ACD

ACD is the most common legal strategy used by criminal defense attorneys in shoplifting cases. In ACD, the charges will be dismissed and you will not have a criminal record.

However, if you have been arrested, such arrest will still appear in the record. This arrest record can be accessed by certain employers, government agencies for licensing, and law enforcement agencies for specific purposes.

If you have been arrested but not convicted (such as in the case of ACD), your attorney may request to seal or expunge your arrest record, which could take around six months.

Shoplifting is a serious charge which could affect your ability to gain employment, damage your reputation, or affect your professional license or immigration status. You need the help of an attorney to expertly navigate this situation, given the rules of criminal procedure. Should you need assistance in defending a shoplifting charge, the Law Offices of Albert Goodwin are here for you. We have offices in New York, NY, Brooklyn, NY, and Queens, NY. You can call us at 718-509-9774 or send us an email at attorneyalbertgoodwin@gmail.com.