Shoplifting in PA – Why Petty Theft Can Have Major Consequences

If you’re convicted of shoplifting, also called “retail theft” in Pennsylvania, you will face significant consequences, including not only court-imposed criminal penalties, but also the longer-lasting issue of being labeled a thief for years to come following your conviction.  Pennsylvania law defines retail theft  at 18 Pa. C.S. § 3929 as taking possession of merchandise offered for sale by a merchant with the intention of depriving the seller of its possession, use, and/or benefit of the merchandise without paying the full retail value for the item.  Shoplifting is typically not considered a higher-level criminal offense, but it can carry other serious consequences that many people fail to consider until it’s too late.  A conviction for shoplifting can have a lifelong impact by establishing a criminal record with a conviction for a crime of fraud.

Whatever the circumstances, the first thing to do if you have been arrested for shoplifting is to hire attorney or other legal professional to help you.  Try to find an attorney who will fight to get the shoplifting charge dismissed or reduced for you.  A criminal record that includes a conviction for shoplifting can limit your options for credit, college, or a job for many years to come.

Short-Term Consequences:  Criminal Punishments under PA Law

The guidelines for criminal penalties to be imposed for shoplifting in PA are based on the value of the stolen merchandise as well as the number of previous shoplifting convictions on your criminal record, if any.  Depending on these factors, shoplifting may be classified as a felony, misdemeanor, or a summary offense under Pennsylvania law.  You may face steep fines as well as a jail sentence if convicted for shoplifting.  If you are convicted, your sentence will be partially up to the judge assigned to your case.  Additionally, it’s common for the defendant to be ordered by the court to return what was taken or its value.

Long-Term Consequences:  The Stigma of a Shoplifting Conviction

Shoplifting and similar crimes of theft have a relatively lower exposure to criminal punishment than other more serious criminal offenses.  That being said, there are other, longer-term consequences that result from a shoplifting conviction in PA that are often overlooked.  A conviction for retail theft in Pennsylvania will create a criminal record with the shoplifting offense listed.

Legally, the consequences stemming directly from a conviction for retail theft include fines and jail time, as listed above.  The criminal penalties imposed by the court are merely one consequence of a conviction for shoplifting in PA.  What many people fail to consider; however, are the longer-term consequences that will stem from being labeled as a dishonest person and a thief.  The stigma of a theft-related conviction will affect your life for years following your conviction, no matter how old you are.  There are certain character traits that potential employers and schools will associate with this charge, including dishonesty and deceit.  If you are over 18, members of the general public will have access to your criminal record, and you may have a difficult time escaping the stigma of a thief.

The Possibility of ARD / What a PA Retail Theft Lawyer Can Do

Pennsylvania law carves out a special program, known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD), for first-time criminal offenders.  The goal of the ARD program is to divert first-time offenders, including certain individuals charged with shoplifting, from the criminal justice system.  The ARD program is a supervisory probation program that allows an offender to complete certain requirements and to have the shoplifting charge ultimately erased from his or her criminal record.  This option is available under very specific circumstances and is geared toward young offenders who have simply made a mistake in judgment.

Sometimes shoplifting develops into an addiction, which should be treated with the assistance of a professional therapist.  In these cases, counseling can be beneficial and can help uncover the reason why a person feels compelled to shoplift.

No matter what the circumstances of your arrest for shoplifting, it’s very important to begin working with an experienced attorney as soon as possible in order to have the charge reduced or dismissed, thereby minimizing the impact of this unfortunate situation on your personal and professional life.