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Young woman trying to steal a garment

Can I Go to Jail for Shoplifting? 

The Law Offices of John Della Rocca Sept. 29, 2022

According to the National Association of Shoplifting and Theft Addiction Specialists, shoplifting occurs more than half a million times every day in the U.S. and involves an annual loss of value in excess of $13 billion. It is easy to see why shoplifting laws in Pennsylvania are rigid and, in some cases, severe. It’s also easy to understand why so many stores invest significant money in video surveillance and theft tags to try to catch thieves in the act.  

Of course, accidents do occur. Shoppers pick up something and forget they have it when they walk out of the store. Items get stuck together in the self-checkout. A child sticks something in the stroller while you’re not paying attention. Many people intentionally steal and conceal, hoping to get away with it. In other cases, what someone is accused of is far worse than what occurred.  

If the circumstances of a shoplifting charge involve any of these or similar scenarios, don’t take it lightly. You can be sentenced to jail for some shoplifting convictions. Minor convictions can still give you a criminal record that will negatively impact your future.  

Put my experience to work for you. If you have been charged in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, or Montgomery County, or in New Jersey, The Law Offices of John Della Rocca can help.  

What Is Shoplifting Under Pennsylvania Law? 

Shoplifting is a property crime, formally referred to as “retail theft” in Pennsylvania. The attempt or act of depriving the rightful owner of an item from the property is retail theft.  

Taking something from the store isn’t the only act that qualifies as retail theft. Switching price tags and labels, removing security tags, and ringing up items at less than the marked price also fit the legal definition.  

For example, you can be charged with shoplifting if you pull a $10 tag off an item in the store and use it to scan a $50 item at the self-checkout; you can be charged if you attempt to remove an inventory tag; you can be charged if you attempt to conceal something and are caught, even if you don’t actually take it out of the store. Even if video surveillance is reviewed months or years later and you are identified, you can still be charged.  

What Kind of Charges Are There? 

Retail theft may be charged as a misdemeanor or felony in Pennsylvania. Whether you are charged with one or the other largely depends on the value of the merchandise and your criminal history.  

A first offense of merchandise valued at less than $150 is a summary offense. A second offense for less than $150 is a second-degree misdemeanor. A second or third offense for merchandise valued at more than $150 is a first-degree misdemeanor.  

Get charged a third time and no matter the merchandise value, it’s a third-degree felony. The same applies when what’s stolen is valued in excess of $2,000 or if it’s a vehicle or firearm.  

What Are the Penalties for Shoplifting? 

Fines for shoplifting convictions range from $100 to $500. Even a first conviction can result in jail time. Those with prior convictions who are charged with felonies can face time in prison.  

Are There Any Defenses Against a Shoplifting Charge? 

One defense against a shoplifting charge is that it was an accident. For example, you were trying on scarves and forgot you had one on when you left the store. Your attorney could also challenge witness testimony or inconclusive video footage. Many store owners now use social media to post video clips or stills of alleged shoplifters to see if someone can identify the person. The wrong person can be accused.  

One important thing to remember is that under Pennsylvania law, there is a presumption that if you are seen to conceal anything, you intended to steal it. Your attorney can help you challenge an intent to commit a crime.  

Turn to Dependable Legal Action 

A shoplifting conviction can cost you a lot. It can cost you money, a clean criminal record, and even your freedom. If you are facing a charge in or around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, whether you are guilty, innocent, or there are extenuating circumstances, turn to a criminal defense attorney with more than two decades of experience. Reach out to me at The Law Offices of John Della Rocca to discuss your case.