Did you know that there is no crime called “shoplifting” in New York State? A person who is alleged to have stolen merchandise from a store will usually be charged with the separate crimes of Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. The exact charges, and whether the individual will be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, will depend upon the value of the property alleged to be stolen and the type of property. Nevertheless, the term “shoplifting” is in common use and I will continue to use it here.
Typically, a person accused of shoplifting will be charged with the Class A Misdemeanors of Petit Larceny and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree. Where these are the two charges, the accused individual has a maximum exposure of 364 days in jail. However, shoplifting can expose an accused person to felony charges if the value of the property exceeds various statutory amounts. For example, if the value of the property alleged to be stolen exceeds $1000, the charges would be Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree and Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree, both Class E Felonies. There are also certain types of property, such as a motor vehicle exceeding $100 in value and religious property, thefts of which are chargeable as felonies.
People are sometimes surprised to learn that a person does not need to leave the store to be charged with shoplifting. What matters is whether the person exercised what the courts call dominion and control over the property which was inconsistent with the store's lawful ownership. It really comes down to intent. Trying on a business suit is not shoplifting but walking towards the store exit wearing the suit might be considered shoplifting, even if the person was still inside the store. There are a number of factors which courts consider in deciding if the “taking” element of a larceny charge has been established. These factors include whether the person walked past cash registers, whether he/she removed sensors or price tags, whether property was concealed in clothing or in a bag, whether the person abandoned his/her own property, or if the person looked around furtively. In addition, possession of a device such as a cutter or a false bottomed or sensor resistant bag would be strong evidence that the intent to steal was present.
Shoplifting charges, depending upon the amount involved and whether or not there have been prior arrests, can be quite serious. I have successfully represented many individuals charged with theft offenses. If you have been charged with shoplifting or another theft offense, I am happy to help and am available for a free consultation.