If you're accused of shoplifting in Texas, it's important to understand your rights, what can happen if you're convicted, and your possible defenses. Here's a guide to the basics.
What Can Cause a Shoplifting Charge?
In Texas, you can be charged with shoplifting for a variety of reasons. Of course, the most common charge relates to taking an item out of a store without paying for it.
However, you can also be charged with shoplifting for switching a price tag on an item, trying to return an item that was reported stolen, serving as a distraction while someone else lifted an item, encouraging someone to steal, or acting as a lookout while someone else steals something.
In addition, you can face arrest for shoplifting even if you didn't actually steal anything. If it seems like you had every intention of stealing something, for example, if you hid an object under your clothing, then you can still face charges.
What Are the Potential Penalties for Shoplifting?
The penalties for theft vary according to the value of the items you're accused of stealing or trying to steal. The breakdown works like this:
- Theft of items valued under $50 results is a Class C misdemeanor and a penalty of up to $500. No jail time is usually given.
- Theft of items valued between $50 and $500 results in a Class B misdemeanor and a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a $2000 fine is possible.
- Theft of items valued between $500 and $1,500 is a Class A misdemeanor. This is very serious and can result in up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines.
- Theft of items valued over $1,500 is a felony. That can result in jail time of up to two years and a $10,000 fine.
In addition to criminal penalties, you can also face a civil lawsuit. The store owner can pursue you in court for the cost of any merchandise that wasn't returned.
What Are Your Rights if Detained by Store Security?
Most shoplifting charges come after loss-prevention officers (store security) have detained someone. While store security personnel have some broad latitude in using reasonable force to detain you until the police arrive, they cannot violate your rights. That means:
- They cannot force you to make a statement. Stay silent and do not offer any statements that could later be used against you.
- They can pat you down but they cannot force you to undress. If asked for your permission for a search, refuse.
- They cannot force you to sign a statement acknowledging the theft. If they offer one, don't sign. Just like a verbal statement, it could later be used against you.
It's generally in your best interests to stay calm and collected if you're accused, no matter what the situation. If you feel threatened, then insist that the police come to the scene. If they don't want to call the police, then you should insist on being released. You are always wiser if you deal with the police, rather than store security.
What Are Possible Defense Options?
Every situation is unique, so not all of these defenses may apply in your case. In general, the most common defenses include:
- You had no intention to steal the item. You simply made a mistake and forgot about the item.
- You didn't know that another person intended to steal anything. You aren't responsible for the actions of others when you didn't intentionally assist them.
- The item is yours in the first place. For example, you're accused of stealing a purse that you actually carried into the store.
The intent is the most important element of most shoplifting charges. If a store can't prove you acted with any intention to steal, you can often defeat the charges. Sometimes, an experienced attorney can help get the charges dismissed before you ever go to trial - unless the evidence against you is very strong.
Any accusation is a serious matter, so don't take a shoplifting charge lightly. Contact the office of Raymond Martinez Attorney at Law immediately to protect your rights and your future.