So you had a lapse in judgment, you saw something you wanted, and before you knew it you had taken the item from the store. Or perhaps you simply forgot to pay for something which you fully intended to purchase?
Either way, you have potentially committed retail theft. In Pennsylvania, shoplifting is called retail theft, and the punishment for it hinges upon two factors:
- The value of the wrongly taken property, and
- How many times the individual has previously been convicted. If you have been accused of retail theft, you will need to hire a retail theft lawyer to argue on your behalf and to explain your position.
Retail Theft Facts
In Pennsylvania, there are a number of acts which can constitute retail theft. Below, you will find the statute under the Pennsylvania Criminal Code, Title 18, Chapter 39, which details this offense. However, we recognize that if you are here looking for help in the form of information and/or counsel that this may not be easy reading. So, in summary:
A person is guilty of retail theft if they take some action to deprive the merchant of the full retail value of the property while unlawfully transferring ownership of the merchandise.
§ 3929 reads as follows:
- Offense defined.–A person is guilty of a retail theft if he:
- Takes possession of, carries away, transfers or causes to be carried away or transferred, any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof
- Alters, transfers or removes any label, price tag marking, indicia of value or any other markings which aid in determining value affixed to any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale in a store or other retail mercantile establishment and attempts to purchase such merchandise personally or in consort with another at less than the full retail value with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of such merchandise
- Transfers any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment from the container in or on which the same shall be displayed to any other container with intent to deprive the merchant of all or some part of the full retail value thereof, or
- Under-rings with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of the merchandise.
- Destroys, removes, renders inoperative or deactivates any inventory control tag, security strip or any other mechanism designed or employed to prevent an offense under this section with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof
Degrees of Retail Theft Crime
Retail Theft is a:
- Summary offense when the offense is a first offense and the value of the merchandise is less than $150.
- Misdemeanor of the second degree when the offense is a second offense and the value of the merchandise is less than $150.
- Misdemeanor of the first degree when the offense is a first or second offense and the value of the merchandise is $150 or more.
- Felony of the third degree when the offense is a third or subsequent offense, regardless of the value of the merchandise.
- Felony of the third degree when the amount involved exceeds $2,000 or if the merchandise involved is a firearm or a motor vehicle.
What Should I Do If I Am Accused of Retail Theft?
If you are accused of Retail Theft by a store owner or employee, and held on those grounds, do not attempt to flee. In Pennsylvania, a store owner and those in their employee have the right to reasonably detain and search an individual who they have “probable cause” to believe committed Retail Theft. It is not a good idea for you to attempt to determine what amounts to “probable cause.” At this point, it is best for you to cooperate and contact your attorney.
If you have been charged with retail theft, you should continue to cooperate, conforming to police instruction. However, you should not answer any questions of officers or prosecutors. You are entitled to a lawyer, and should politely decline and exercise your right to remain silent until one arrives. It is not in your best interest to tell your side of the story. Your attorney will do that at the appropriate time, and you will be allowed to do so on the day of court, if necessary.
Why Do I Need an Attorney?
First of all, you need an attorney to advise you how to proceed after the arrest has been made. And after an arrest is made, your primary focus should not be your guilt or innocence, but rather how to go about protecting your rights. An attorney will protect your rights by reviewing and potentially discrediting any evidence being used against you.
This content was written on behalf of Greg Prosmushkin.