Shoplifting Charges

Shoplifting is a common type of larceny theft crime. Larceny is taking personal property that does not belong to you without consent from the owner. Generally, shoplifting involves going into a retail establishment and pretending to be a customer but stealing goods instead. There are also several theft crimes in North Carolina tied to possessing or receiving stolen goods that the defendant knew were stolen.

If you have been arrested for shoplifting in North Carolina, you should get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. While these charges may not seem too serious at face value, they can, and often do, have life-changing consequences if convicted. This includes the possibility of felony conviction and large fines in civil court. Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney will help you get the best possible results for you case. This can mean possibly dismissing charges, reducing sentencing, or dropping much harsher charges down to something less severe.  

popart of woman shoplifting by slipping an item into her purse while looking over her shoulder

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Related Practice Areas

  • Burglary
  • Gun Possession Violations
  • Identity Theft
  • Robbery
  • Trespassing and Property Damage

What is the Different Between Shoplifting and Other Thefts?

It is important to understand that shoplifting is considered a form of larceny theft, which differs from robbery and burglary theft, as defined below:

  • Larceny: taking personal, tangible property from someone without their consent.
  • Robbery: taking or attempting to take something from a person using force or the threat of force to do so.
  • Burglary: breaking and entering a structure (e.g. a home), or intent to do so, for the purposes of committing a crime such as theft. Successfully carrying out a theft is not necessary to be convicted.

The North Carolina laws that are considered “shoplifting” laws fall under the category of larceny because they do not involve the use of force or breaking into any building or store. For example, if a person breaks into a retail store or uses force to take any goods from a store, they would likely be charged with crimes more serious than shoplifting. However, the elements of a case that determine what category of theft prosecution pushes for are not always straightforward. This is just one of many reasons why you should contact an experienced attorney if you were arrested for shoplifting, as the charges can be severe if you have an inadequate defense.

Shoplifting Laws in North Carolina

Shoplifting crimes can range in seriousness from misdemeanors to low-level felonies, depending on a variety of factors. These crimes are categorized in a variety of ways, including the value of good stolen and whether the defendant stole the items or received stolen items from somebody else. Shoplifting crimes in North Carolina fall under N.C.G.S. 14-72, and include:

Receiving or Possessing Stolen Goods

If a person received or possessed stolen goods that they knew were stolen, or had reasonable grounds to believe were stolen, they would be guilty of larceny of stolen goods. This means that being in possession of stolen goods is treated as a crime in the same way as actually committing the act of shoplifting.

In most cases, if the value of the goods stolen are more than $1,000, a conviction of this crime is a class H felony. If the value of goods is less than $1,000, a conviction is a class 1 misdemeanor. Where value can be difficult to determine, it may be up to the jury to fix the value of property stolen. There are cases where shoplifting is always a felony, regardless of value, including:

  • Stealing directly from a person.
  • Stealing firearms, explosives, or incendiary devices.
  • The defendant has at least four prior convictions of larceny or similar offenses in North Carolina any other state.
  • The crime falls under the scope of burglary or robbery.

Additionally, if a person knowingly resells or exchanges stolen good for cash or other items or value, they will be guilty of a class H felony.

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Larceny from a Merchant

The actual act of shoplifting, or larceny from a merchant, is classified as a misdemeanor or felony depending on a variety of circumstances. Misdemeanor acts of shoplifting including:

  • Concealing goods or merchandise from the store for the purpose of taking them without consent.
  • Willfully transferring a false price tag to merchandise for the purpose of buying it at a lower selling price.

For a first-time offense, the above is punished as a class 3 misdemeanor. Prison sentence can be suspended only if the defendant agrees to at least 24 hours of community service. If the defendant had a prior larceny conviction within three years of the current offense, they will be guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. A third offense within 5 years is a class 1 misdemeanor.

There are several actions that a person can commit while shoplifting that are considered “larceny from a merchant”. If a person shoplifts and commits any of the acts below, they will be guilty of a class H felony:

  • Removing, destroying, or deactivating any anti-shoplifting control device or inventory control device, such as sensor tags.
  • Replacing a product barcode on an item for the purposes of buying it for less than its sale price.
  • Stealing infant formula worth more than $100.
  • Taking property values more than $200 and using an emergency exit to leave the store.

Organized Retail Theft

While most shoplifting is committed by individuals acting on their own, whether out of need, recklessness, or lack of impulse control, there are cases where shoplifting crimes are organized by groups. These crimes are called “organized retail theft” and are always treated as felonies.

For a person to be convicted of organized retail theft, they should at least be guilty of the following criteria:

  • Conspiring to commit theft of retail property with at least one other person.
  • The value of items stolen or intended to steal should exceed $1,500 over a 90-day period.
  • Intending to sell the stolen property or monetary or other gain, or otherwise exchanges the items with another person.

If a person is in possession or retail property they knew or had reasonable grounds to know was stolen in a organized retail theft operation, they may also be guilty of the same crime.

A conviction of organized retail theft is at least a class H felony. It will increase to a class G felony if either of the following is true:

  • The value of goods stolen or conspired to be stolen exceeded $20,000 over a 90-day period; or
  • The defendant conspired with two or more people in a leadership role to engage in a scheme to make profit.

Additionally, if convicted the defendant will be subject to forfeiting any interest they acquired or maintained due to the crime.

Defending Against Shoplifting Charges

There are several defenses that can be used against shoplifting charges, depending on the circumstances and evidence related to the case. There are general defenses that can be presented in any criminal case, such as law enforcements failure to recognize your right to remain silent, or if the defendant committed the act under duress. Specific to shoplifting crimes, the prosecution needs to prove that the defendant had the intent to shoplift to get a conviction. This means the following defense can be used:

Lack of Intent to Steal

This defense applies to cases where the defendant was found to be in possession or allegedly concealing stolen goods but argues that it was not their intention to steal anything. Depending on the evidence found in the case, the defense can argue that the shoplifting was done by accident or mistake. For example, the defendant may have thought they paid for the goods, unknowingly acquired stolen goods, did not realize they were carrying unpaid goods when exiting the store, among other things.

Wrongfully Identified as Suspect

Shoplifting cases may rely on evidence from a video camera as well as witness testimonies. In both cases, it is possible for the observations made to be incorrect. If the prosecutor is relying on witness testimony, a skilled attorney can challenge their testimonies as unreliable or false. If they rely on video footage, an experienced defense attorney will examine if the evidence really shows that the defendant is present at all, or if it shows the defendant shoplifting the allegedly stolen items.

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How these cases should be defended should depend on a thorough examination by an experienced attorney of all the factors present. While hiring a private attorney may not seem worth it for a relatively minor crime like shoplifting, not doing so can lead to life-long consequences.

Our lawyers have successfully represented clients in shoplifting and related cases, so they know how to carefully structure a defense based on the facts of the case. Most importantly, we are exceptionally skilled at taking these cases to trial, as we know the tactics used by prosecution that often push the defendant into a plea-bargaining position before a trial begins. If you would like to learn more about how we an help, or request a consultation with us, then leave us a message or call us today.