People often underestimate what they are up against when facing criminal theft charges. The tendency is to believe that
(1) I’m innocent, and that will eventually become clear, so I can just go to court and handle this myself; or
(2) I’m guilty, so I should just go to court, take whatever they give me, and not waste any money on a lawyer, because the lawyer can’t do anything anyway.
That kind of thinking is self-destructive, and usually turns a very bad situation into something even more terrible. If you or your loved one is accused of a theft-related offense, whether it’s shoplifting, stealing from your employer, or some form other form of fraud or embezzlement, it is important to have a qualified attorney working hard on the case.
Shoplifting Theft FAQs
Do you handle all kinds of theft cases, or do you only handle shoplifting cases? Our office handles all kinds of theft cases. However, in general, no two theft cases are really quite alike. That makes it difficult to discuss “theft cases” in general terms, because there isn’t a lot to say that is likely to be true in the majority of theft cases. However, shoplifting cases (a particular type of theft) do tend to have a lot of common features, so it’s easier to discuss generally applicable information that a lot of people will find helpful.
Nevertheless, we do handle all kinds of theft cases, and have experience dealing with the complicated issues that often arise. If you are accused of a theft offense that is not shoplifting, the only real way to get good information about your situation is to give us a call and speak to an attorney over the phone.
Why are shoplifting cases taken so seriously in the South Bay? As I explain in more detail here, you might think of your minor retail theft offense as “just” shoplifting, or you may know full well that you are “not a shoplifter,” that is, you’re not someone who makes a habit of stealing from retailers.
Please understand: that will not matter to the prosecutor. The prosecutor will try to force you to plead guilty or go to trial anyway. Pleading guilty can hurt you in the future more than you realize, and going to trial is something you should never try to do on your own.
What kind of consequences can stem from shoplifting offenses? It is possible to be jailed for shoplifting (up to six months for “petty theft,” more if the amount stolen was over $950), though jail time is generally unlikely, unless you have several prior shoplifting convictions.
However, you can certainly sustain a criminal misdemeanor conviction and be required to do many days of community labor—that’s the CalTrans work on the side of the road, in the orange vests—and if you don’t complete them, then be put in jail.
Consequences of Conviction
But worse than any of those consequences is the impact a theft conviction can have on you in your future.
Employment consequences: some potential employers will overlook a misdemeanor conviction or two, provided there is a reasonable explanation or that enough time has passed; however, they generally will not overlook theft convictions. Nobody wants to hire someone they have to trust with money if that person has already been convicted of stealing. If you find yourself in a job interview having to explain that it was all a misunderstanding, you’ve really hurt your chances at getting the job, haven’t you?
Licensing problems: many people work in jobs that require them to have a license from the State of California. All kinds of professions are licensed– from construction contractors to cosmetologists, from marriage counselors to massage therapists. These licensing boards might refuse to renew your license, or deny an initial application for a license, based on your having been convicted of a theft or shoplifting related offense.
Immigration consequences: theft offenses, including shoplifting, can also cause problems for you or your loved one when dealing with immigration status issues. Any time you apply for an adjustment in status– applying for a green card, or to become a naturalized citizen, for example– a theft offense can hurt you and potentially prevent you from getting the new status. And of course, if you are not a citizen, being convicted of a criminal offense (any offense) can potentially put you at risk of deportation or removal from the country.
What NOT TO DO if You Are Accused of Shoplifting
1.Don’t make any statement whatsoever to the people who work for the store. Major retailers will employ “loss prevention officers” who are made to seem as if they are essentially light-duty police. They are not; they are private citizens. These individuals will tell you that if you admit to what you did, they might not have to call the police. Guess what? They will call the police anyway. If you are talking to them in the back room, they’ve already made that decision. It is important to simply, clearly, politely ask, “Are you accusing me of shoplifting?” Wait for your answer. Don’t say another word. It may be that you have a perfectly logical explanation for what happened, and you’ll feel the urge to just offer that explanation and “get this all over with.” Unfortunately, that is not actually how that will play out.
The trouble is that loss prevention officers have already heard every possible explanation in the book, every single one of them, and as a consequence they won’t believe you no matter what you say. Worse, they’ll twist whatever you say to make it sound like you are admitting to stealing.
2. Don’t fall victim to extortion by the retailer. See my detailed blog post about this new issue here; be aware also that after you are accused of shoplifting by a retailer, you will very likely get mail from a giant corporate lawyer’s office telling you that you have to pay them or they will sue you. Never respond to such a letter, certainly not without hiring a lawyer first; let your lawyer handle it (many will tell you to simply disregard the letter.)
3. Don’t make any statement at all the police. This should go without saying. It doesn’t. Don’t talk to the store staff about what happened, and don’t talk to the police about what happened.
4. Don’t go back shopping at that store or any of the other stores in the same retail complex until after the whole thing is settled. Most people aren’t aware that loss prevention teams generally work together and share information, at least within the same retail complex. If you are seen again at a store in the same complex, the loss prevention team will be “on alert” and will be watching you for any vague suggestion that you might be there to steal again. You risk having your actions misconstrued. Find somewhere else to shop for a while.
5. Don’t panic. Keep your head. You may never have believed it was possible that you would find yourself accused of shoplifting, and as a result you’ll be inclined to make impulsive, rash decisions—decisions that will make a bad situation worse. Don’t despair! If you are innocent, the right lawyer, working hard on your behalf, will be able to help. Just don’t try to “clear your name” or “make your case” yourself, because there are too many pitfalls.
You need an experienced attorney working hard for you. If you or someone you love has been caught shoplifting or you face a theft charge, call us for a free and confidential consultation at (310) 633-4612 or fill out the form on this page for us to call you back.