What Happens In Court For Shoplifting? Theft Charges in Court

Shoplifting is one of the biggest problems in the US; it is almost impressive how much money vendors lose each year because of shoplifters. Some people shoplift professionally, so this should give you an idea of how dire the situation is.

There is a need to implement laws that protect vendors from shoplifters. Let us look at the judicial system and see how it deals with shoplifting. 

There might be a way to survive the storm should you get caught, so let us get into the details and help you figure this out.

What Happens In Court For Shoplifting?

The court process for shoplifting is different between courts. Generally speaking, when you go in for your arraignment and hire an attorney, they will go and get the discoveries, police reports, any investigative notes, or a CD from loss prevention.

They will then begin to negotiate on your behalf to try and get the court to dismiss the charges as fast as possible. 

The attorney will look at the case to see if issues with the evidence could cause the prosecutor to dismiss the case.

The attorney will then see if their client is eligible for a diversion program where the court will make certain conditions. If the accused meets these conditions, the court will eventually dismiss their case.

People who shoplift are not bad, and often it comes down to three things: the person was depressed, it was an honest mistake, they needed it to survive, or for the thrill. The court will consider this, and the punishment is not brutal.

Generally speaking, shoplifting is a 1st-degree misdemeanor, and you can get up to 6 months in jail or pay up to a $1000 fine. Realistically, this doesn’t happen, and first-time offenders pay a small fine and get probation.

A court can treat a shoplifting charge as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the items you stole, their monetary value, the criminal history of the accused, and whether there was a pattern in recent shoplifting activity.

Often, folks arrested for shoplifting will get letters from collection agencies on behalf of the store asking for a civil penalty payment. This is a settlement that the store wants you to pay, so they don’t pursue the matter in court.

Even if the store hasn’t brought forward any criminal charge, you could get this letter. It would help to talk to an attorney or judge before paying these collection agencies since it might help your case.

What Is Shoplifting By Law? 

We need to talk about theft from a store or shoplifting and some confusion that might come up about the matter. 

Let us see what shoplifting is and when it becomes theft so you know what you can do while shopping to stay on the right side of the law;

Theft by law is the dishonest procurement of property that belongs to someone else without the intention of giving it back to them. 

This can also be the case when you treat someone else’s property like yours and prevent them from using it as they please.

For instance, when you eat something in the store, you treat it like it is yours; thus, you deny the owner a right to use it as they please. 

When shopping, you appropriate the goods when you take them off the shelf; the important part is whether it is honest or dishonest.

It is not wrong if you put an item into your shopping trolley and intend to scan and pay for it. If you put the item in your pocket with plans to steal it, then it becomes a dishonest appropriation, and you can qualify as a shoplifter. 

Most stores won’t arrest you at that moment since they can’t prove that you don’t have intentions to pay for the item. 

The staff will detain you only after you pass the checkpoint for paying since you would have gone past the option for paying.

It will now be more likely that a prosecution will be successful since the magistrate or jury will be able to establish that you stole the goods and didn’t intend to pay for them. It is always good to keep the receipt to prove everything you have is yours.

How To Beat A Theft Charge

Shoplifting might become a big problem if the court decides to look at it as theft. Without the proper guidance, you could be in a world of trouble and potentially end up in jail. Here are some ways you can navigate a theft charge and win;

Theft cases come in different ways, but there are common factors that you can use to challenge the prosecutor’s case against you. 

1. Identity issues

In theft charges, the prosecutor has to prove the identity of the accused to the court beyond all reasonable doubt. In other words, the prosecutor has to prove that you were the one that took the item at the store.

Any reasonable doubt about the offender’s identity will lead the jury to rule you as innocent, and the court will dismiss your case. 

Unless there is solid evidence that you are responsible, you can use this to your advantage and get out of a shoplifting charge.

2. Intent issues

In a shoplifting or theft case, the prosecutor must typically prove that you had the intention to stay with the property without the owner’s consent permanently. You can use the “borrow” defense to get a lighter punishment or go free.

The idea is to establish that your intent when you took something was not to permanently stay with it, instead to borrow the property and bring it back later. This might not work so well for a shoplifting case, but it will help you out in theft charges.

For shoplifting, you could use the argument that the whole thing was a mistake that happened because you were in a rush or got confused and failed to clear everything. If you have a good record and don’t seem like a potential shoplifter, you could get off.

3. The 4th and 5th Amendments

The last tool you can use to beat a theft case is the law itself. The court can’t use any evidence that police have against which they got you by violating your 4th amendment right. This right means that the circumstances for your arrest must be reasonable and unbiased.

Your lawyer can take advantage of your 5th amendment right to remain silent to suppress incriminating statements you made to other people or the police.

If the core of the prosecutor’s case is your intent based on what you said, you could get a judge to dismiss the case.


The court process for shoplifting differs depending on the offender’s criminal history, the worth of the goods they stole, the court, and the arrest circumstances. In most states, the courts treat it as a misdemeanor, and you might get off with a fine.

Stealing more expensive merchandise like jewelry might get you imprisoned for up to 6 months. Having a pattern of shoplifting will make you a felon, so the court will persecute you as such, and you could end up in prison.

John Taylor
John Taylor
John Taylor is a seasoned writer with more than 10 years of experience as a professional. He has written professionally for many different organizations, such as The Atlantic and the Boston Globe. John can write on any topic you need him to cover, from business writing to creative nonfiction pieces. His portfolio speaks for his skills; he's not only an experienced writer but also an excellent editor and researcher!


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