What Legal Defense Is Available After A Shoplifting Arrest?

The first few months of 2019 saw a crackdown on shoplifting in Seattle. Police made a total of 33 shoplifting arrests -- 23 arrests at a Home Depot in the South District in February and another 10 arrests in March after a series of thefts at a Home Depot and a Lowes store on Aurora Avenue North. The police action came after a wave of complaints by Seattle retailers about shoplifting and a lack of law enforcement. Some of the police were working in plain clothes in coordination with in-store security. Suspects who ran from police were charged with obstruction and eluding. If you or a family member has been charged with shoplifting, you or they could be facing large fines and incarceration, as well as the prospect of a criminal record that will drastically hurt the chances of future employment.

The degree and penalties depend on the value of the property involved:

  • Gross misdemeanor theft (less than $750) -- up to one year in jail and up to $5,000 in fines.
  • Second-degree theft ($750 to $5,000) -- up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
  • First-degree theft ($5,000 or more) -- up to 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.

The actions you take upon being accused of shoplifting can bear heavily on your defense and whether you will have a criminal record. Most people are stopped not by police but by retail store security officials. The first rule of thumb is not to run or otherwise evade, since that will become part of the evidence used against you. But while you should cooperate, you should not admit anything. Store security will sometimes try to exact a confession, threatening to call the police as leverage. If you are arrested, state that you insist on having a lawyer present during questioning. Defense of shoplifting cases is challenging but there are options and strategies available. A skillful criminal defense lawyer will look at the facts of your case to shape your legal strategy. While prosecutors and judges are usually deaf to arguments that the shoplifting was a mistake or unintentional, the circumstances of the alleged crime may be considered in deciding whether a plea to a lesser offense will be allowed -- perhaps one that does not involve theft, such as commercial trespass. There are also diversionary programs that, if completed successfully, result in no criminal record. At Peale Law Firm in Seattle, we have represented hundreds of clients throughout Washington in theft prosecutions. If you need criminal defense against a shoplifting or other theft charge, call us at (206) 429-4777 or contact us online.