You can still be arrested for shoplifting after leaving the store without getting caught. If you are accused of shoplifting, the attorneys at Belen Law Firm advise you to contact us for a free consultation. As a criminal defense lawyer, Belen understands how to prepare and defend shoplifting charges. She has the courtroom experience and skills required to stand up against prosecutors for clients accused of theft crimes.

What is Considered Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is when someone takes an item from a store without paying for it. According to state law, shoplifting involves any of the following:

  • Stealing merchandise
  • Removing or altering a price tag in order to pay less than the marked price
  • Paying for merchandise with a false account or with an account the belongs to another person without their knowledge, consent, or authorization
  • Removing an item for sale or on display without paying for it

Shoplifting can occur in any store, retail business, or establishment with merchandise for sale. Shoplifting is one of the most commonly prosecuted forms of theft in Arizona.

Many stores have surveillance cameras designed to capture footage of shoplifters. If you were able to leave the store without being caught, you may not be as safe as you think.

If the store took footage of you shoplifting and you are identified in the footage, you can be charged with theft any time within the statute of limitations. The store may decide that the cost of pursuing charges against you is less than the cost of losing the merchandise. This is not likely if the merchandise stolen was worth a lot of money.

You should avoid going back to the store after shoplifting without getting caught. There’s a possibility that the same employee could be working and recognize you. They could also put up your photo if they got footage of you on camera. Stores often share information about shoplifters with other businesses. The store where you shoplifted might share your photo with other retailers in the area.

What Do I Do if the Police or Store Contact Me About Shoplifting?

Stores often prosecute shoplifting without having the police contact you. You don’t need to be arrested at the store to be charged. It can take several weeks or months for the retailer to file charges against you.

The store will present their evidence to the local police department when they are ready to file charges. The police will then refer the case to a prosecutor, who will work with the court to issue you a Notice to Appear. If it was a felony theft, you could receive an arrest warrant. However, retailers and prosecutors rarely seek criminal arrest warrants based only on probable cause. (See our blog: Do I Have a Warrant in Arizona? How to Check)

If you receive a Notice to Appear for shoplifting, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney at Belen Law Firm immediately. The next steps you take will be critical. Failure to appear in court on time could result in a bench warrant. This could lead to your arrest and seriously complicate your case.

How Long do the Police Have Before I Can be Charged for Shoplifting?

In Arizona, the statute of limitations is 1 year for misdemeanor theft and 7 years for felony theft. 

Most shoplifting cases are classified as a misdemeanor. This means that you can face charges for shoplifting after leaving the store for up to 1 year after committing the crime.

Sometimes it will take weeks or months for the store to file charges because of the constraints of video footage. Even if the store caught you on camera or a security guard saw you, it might take a while for the store to get a positive ID from the footage. If the store positively identifies you, they might check for other occurrences of shoplifting. They will look through their archives with facial recognition software to see if you were in the store on other occasions.

What are the Penalties I Could Face for Shoplifting?

The penalties for shoplifting depend on the value of the stolen goods.

  • Less than $1,000 (property value): Class 1 misdemeanor
  • Between $1,000 and $2,000 (property value): Class 6 felony
  • $2,000 or more (property value): Class 5 felony
  • When the item stolen is a firearm: Class 6 felony
  • Using a device to aid in shoplifting: Class 5 felony

If you have prior criminal convictions, you could face a more severe charge, regardless of the value of the stolen goods. Jail or prison time, fines and probation are all possible. For first-time offenders, jail is uncommon.

Stores can also sue shoplifters in civil court for damages. In civil court, one person sues another person because of a dispute or problem between them. A business or agency can also file a case in civil court or be sued in civil court.  If someone loses a case in civil court, that person may be ordered to pay money to the other side or return property, but that person does not go to jail just for losing the case. Damages can be awarded for the value of stolen items, as well as an additional penalty. The convicted shoplifter can face a civil penalty plus the value of the stolen goods. 

It’s important to know that these sentences and dollar amounts are guidelines for sentencing. With an experienced criminal law attorney at Belen Law Firm, you may be able to negotiate a lower classification and penalty. Even if a lower classification or penalty is not possible, a good attorney should at the very least be able to work with the prosecution and judge to lessen your sentence.

How Long Could My Shoplifting Conviction Stay on my Record?

Misdemeanor and felony convictions will remain on your record until you turn 99. Arizona law allows you to request that the court set aside your misdemeanor conviction. When a conviction is set aside, it will show as dismissed in public records. Even with a detailed background check, the record will show the existence of a prior conviction, but the details will be concealed. The record will show that the court granted the petition to have the judgment set aside.

Whether the offense is a felony or a misdemeanor, you must take this case very seriously. Although you made a mistake by shoplifting, you don’t have to make a second one by not hiring a lawyer. The criminal defense attorneys in Phoenix, AZ at Belen Law Firm help you build a case to protect your rights and reduce charges against you. We have been successful in having our clients’ charges dropped altogether on many occasions. Contact us to receive a free consultation today.