Shoplifting is the act of taking or stealing something, or otherwise attempting to deprive a retail store of the full value of its merchandise.

Most stores, even small ones, use some form of anti-theft security, including closed circuit TV and undercover store detectives. Potential shoplifters are often profiled, and attempting to cover your face, lingering or entering a store as part of a group will often arouse suspicion.

According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, more than 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the last five years. Generally, shoplifting is not a premeditated crime. In other words, most shoplifters don’t plan to shoplift. Rather, they usually act on the spur of the moment.

Under Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 266, Section 30A, stealing or attempting to deprive a retail store of merchandise includes intentionally concealing goods, altering, transferring or removing labels, price tags or other affixed markings that state the value of the goods, with the intention of depriving the retailer of part or all of the value of the goods. Switching containers or altering the value of goods so that they are less than the actual value is also considered shoplifting. In addition, removing a shopping cart from a store is considered shoplifting.

Consequences of Shoplifting

If there is probable cause for believing you have shoplifted, you can be arrested without a warrant. Generally speaking, the word of the storeowner, manager or employee is enough to get you arrested. However, it is not the store that will initiate the court proceedings. The store will refer the matter to the police, who will decide whether or not to bring a criminal charge against you.

In some other states, civil shoplifting penalties can be imposed on parents or legal guardians of children, who commit a shoplifting offense. Most important, if your child has been caught shoplifting, it can have far-reaching consequences that can affect your child for the rest of his/her life. That is why it is very important that you immediately contact an attorney who specializes in shoplifting criminal defense so that your child does not have a criminal record.

Under Massachusetts law, the merchant is also at liberty to reclaim damages, which can be as much as $500 beyond the actual damages or theft that occurred from the alleged criminal act. Although some attorneys might advise you not to respond to this demand, I’d advise you to pay it immediately. Very often, a court will look at this demand as double jeopardy and will dismiss the charges against you if you have paid it.

Shoplifting Penalties

Shoplifting penalties vary under Massachusetts law depending on the value of the goods and the number of prior offenses. For shoplifting items valued at less than $100, shoplifting penalties are:

  • Up to a $250 fine for a first (1st) offense;
  • Up to a $500 fine for a second (2nd) offense; and
  • Up to 2 years imprisonment for a third (3rd) offense.

For shoplifting items valued at $100 or more, shoplifting penalties can be:

  • Up to 2½ years imprisonment and a fine of $1000 for a first (1st) offense
  • For a second or third (2nd or 3rd) offense, the shoplifting penalties become more serious.