Shoplifting defenses – petty theft information

If you have been arrested or cited for petty theft (shoplifting) – you may think the situation is bad.  Don’t just give up and assume there is nothing to do.  You’re facing a possible theft charge that can have devastating effects on your future.

In a shoplifting case, like any other, I look at a case from three ways:

Do you have any factual defenses?

Assuming everything in the police reports is true and accurate, does it all add up to the elements of the charge you’re accused of?  If you’re charged with theft, can they prove that you had the specific intent to steal?  How can they overcome whether or not it was an accident or mistake on your part?  If you’re charged with burglary, can they prove you had the intent to steal before you entered the store?  I know they’re subtle distinctions, but they are necessary elements of the crime the prosecution must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

From there, we know that the reports are not always 100% accurate.  What in the report doesn’t add up?  Are times, sequences or witness statements conflicting with each other?  Are there obvious errors in what happened that can be easily torn apart? When I consult with my clients, we review the facts of the case down to the smallest detail to see where the gaps in the case are.

Do you have any legal defenses?

Because most shoplifting cases involve a “private person’s arrest” (sometimes called a “citizen’s arrest”) by the store personnel, they are not necessarily under the same rules as the police.  Under the Penal Code, they do have a right to detain a person they suspect of shoplifting.  If they search you, they don’t have to have a warrant or probable cause like the police do.  But that doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they want.  The store loss prevention officers (a.k.a. security) must still act within the law and appropriately.  I have had cases where the loss prevention agents spied into dressing rooms – a clear violation of criminal law.  This can absolutely be used to our advantage in your defense.  Similarly, if the store security guards used excessive force, that can lead to a tremendous advantage to you either in negotiating your case or fighting it at trial.

From there, the actions by the police – Miranda warnings, searches or other police procedures can factor into how to defend your case.

If the facts and the law are against you, how can we best protect you?

Assuming the facts and the law are stacking up against you, what can be done?  Often, there can be alternative dispositions worked out, hopefully to avoid a conviction for a misdemeanor theft offense.  Diversion, deferred entry of judgment, reduction to a misdemeanor or non-theft related charge are all potential outcomes.  Every case is unique, but by working together well before your court date, there are things you can do to help get me in the best possible position for a good outcome in your case when I go to court on your behalf.

Don’t wait until the last minute before you are due to appear in court.  Give me a call and we can discuss the details and where we’re headed with your case.

Joe Dane