Shoplifting is an area of the law that is well understood by any Omaha criminal defense lawyer. Although many people are aware of the basic definition of shoplifting, many are not aware of how the law defines it and, more importantly, what rights and responsibilities they have if they are accused of shoplifting.
Understanding Shoplifting Law
The basic element of shoplifting is that a person enters a retail establishment with permission and then attempts to remove merchandise from the store without purchasing it and without the establishment realizing that it is gone. Note that merely having the intention to commit this act is usually enough to be guilty of it, even if the perpetrator does not succeed or is apprehended before he or she can leave the store. If you are caught with the intention of shoplifting, you can be found guilty of shoplifting.
What Penalties Does the Crime Carry?
An Omaha criminal defense attorney can explain what the potential penalties are in your jurisdiction if you are ultimately convicted of shoplifting. They can range from fines and probation to jail time. The severity of the sentence usually depends on the dollar value of the property that was shoplifted, although prior offenses and the defendant’s lack of remorse may also be taken into account at sentencing. If the property was sufficiently valuable, the charges may be elevated to a more serious crime such as felony larceny which carries much stiffer penalties. .
What Can the Store Do If It Suspects Shoplifting?
Many people have seen or interacted with “loss prevention” personnel at various retailers who are private employees tasked with intercepting suspected shoplifters. Because stores are not routinely patrolled by law enforcement officers, shoplifting is usually not observed or apprehended by law enforcement officers directly. Rather, store employees might observe the crime happening and then call the police to apprehend the suspect. Because this step is handled by store employees who are often not well-trained or well-equipped to deal with situations such as this, difficult situations may arise. Sometimes employees will misidentify a customer as shoplifting and act forcibly to intercept them. Some employees might even try to physically prevent a person from leaving the store. However, this might not be legal for them to do. There are certain laws and regulations that an Omaha criminal defense attorney can explain that specify what the merchant’s authority is with regard to suspected shoplifters and what they are allowed to do. The merchant must have “probable cause” to believe that shoplifting has occurred before physically stopping a suspect. Merchant employees are also allowed to conduct certain questioning of a suspect to a reasonable degree if they have probable cause that the person intended to shoplift. However, if the employee is acting on weak information, such as secondhand observations by another customer, then the merchant would be unwise to take any stronger measures. It might be unlawful, for example, for an employee to physically grab a suspected shoplifter and get into a struggle in order to prevent the person from leaving.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
As in all criminal cases, the prosecution must prove that an accused shoplifter is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to win a conviction. An Omaha criminal defense lawyer can examine your case and tell you how the prosecution’s case is weak and where it is strong. With shoplifting, it is important to note that intent must be proven. Store employees might misconstrue otherwise innocuous actions, so it can be difficult for the prosecution to prove intent. You should review the details of your case and the prosecution’s evidence with an attorney.
Going to Trial
If your shoplifting case is going to trial, do not lose hope. Your lawyer will try to put together a case for reasonable doubt. You may find that the store employee who is key to the prosecution’s case does not show up to testify. It is not uncommon for the employee in question to be unable to take time off from work to come testify at the trial because of other obligations. If the prosecution is unable to present solid witness testimony or evidence as to the crime, the case may be dismissed. However, if you do not want to take the risk of a full conviction at trial, your lawyer may try to secure a plea bargain for you instead. Depending on the severity of the offense and the defendant’s record, the prosecutor may agree to a deal for a lesser charge. If the defendant is a first-time offender, the prosecution may be willing to extend a deferral option that erases the shoplifting arrest after certain conditions such as probation are met.
Consult an Omaha Criminal Defense Lawyer
Learn more about how shoplifting is prosecuted under the law and what you can do if you are facing shoplifting charges. Contact an Omaha criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office of Brendan M. Kelly. Call (888) 565-5281.