Shoplifting may not seem like a serious crime. Many people, especially teenagers or college-aged adults, may feel the temptation to try shoplifting. It may seem like a victimless crime, but, in reality, it can put jobs at risk. Because retailers mark up items to reflect a certain amount of theft, everyone else ends up paying for shoplifted items. The more items destroyed or stolen from a store, the greater the potential mark-up.
In Pennsylvania, shoplifting is called retail theft. Under the state’s laws, the seriousness of a shoplifting crime gets determined by the value of the items stolen and any previous criminal record by the person accused of retail theft. Even young people can end up in serious trouble over shoplifting.
What constitutes retail theft?
There are many kinds of behavior that qualify as retail theft. All of these actions are undertaken with an intention to deprive the rightful owner (the store) of the value of the item(s) in question. A shoplifter could do that in a number of ways. A common one is to hide an item inside clothing, under a coat, in a baby stroller or in a purse. That’s what most people think of when they think of shoplifting.
Retail theft also includes changing the price tag on an item to a lower price or swapping out price tags, packaging or containers to purchase an item for less than it was priced for. It is also retail theft to damage, remove or disable any security devices placed in retail merchandise.
A person accused of retail theft doesn’t always have to make it out of the store. People overseen by security or videotaped by cameras hiding items, changing tags or removing security devices could be charged without ever successfully stealing anything.
The value of the items determines the penalty
For items worth less than $150, shoplifting is considered a summary offense if the person accused has no previous retail theft on his or her record. That means this charge carries up to 90 days in jail.
For a second offense involving items worth less than $150, the accused will face a misdemeanor in the second degree charge, which could result in up to three years in prison. If the items were worth more than $150 but less than $2,000, the accused will face misdemeanor of the first degree charges for a first or second offense, which carry up to five years in prison.
Any third, fourth or higher retail theft offense, regardless of the item’s value, is a third degree felony charge. Shoplifting is also a felony when the merchandise is worth more than $2,000, or it it’s a firearm or motor vehicle. For felony retail theft charges, there could be as many as seven years imprisonment ordered by the courts.