RETAIL THEFT DEFINED (18 P.S. § 3929)
In Pennsylvania, a person is guilty of retail theft if he or she does any of the following:
- Takes possession of, carries away, transfers or causes to be carried away or transferred, any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intent of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof;
- Alters, transfers or removes any label, price tag marking, indicia of value or any other markings which aid in determining value affixed to any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment and attempts to purchase such merchandise personally or in consort with another at less than full retail value with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full value of such merchandise;
- Transfers any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment from the container in or on which the same shall be displayed to any other container with the intent to deprive the merchant of all or some part of the full value of the item;
- Under-rings with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of the merchandise; or
- Destroys, removes, renders inoperative or deactivates any inventory control tag, security strip or any other mechanism designed or employed to prevent an offense with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof.
Common retail theft acts include changing a price tag on an item, causing the cash register to ring up a lower value, removing the anti-theft device or putting items in your purse or stroller.
GRADING AND PENALTIES
Summary offense. Retail theft is a summary offense if it is a person’s first offense and the value of the merchandise is under $150.00. A person could face a maximum fine of $300.00 and 90 days’ imprisonment.
Misdemeanor – 2nd Degree. Retail theft is a second degree misdemeanor if it is a second offense and the value of the merchandise is under $150.00. A person could face a maximum fine of $5,000.00 and 2 years’ imprisonment.
Misdemeanor – 1st Degree. Retail theft is a misdemeanor of the first degree when it is a first or second offense and the value is $150.00 or more. A person could face a maximum fine of $10,000.00 and 5 years’ imprisonment.
Felony. Retail theft is a felony of the third degree when the offense is a third or subsequent offense, regardless of the value of the merchandise. It is a felony of the third degree when the amount involved is greater than $1,000.00 or if the merchandise is a firearm or a motor vehicle. A person could face a maximum fine of $15,000.00 and 7 years’ imprisonment.
Under 42 P.S. 8308, a civil action may cause the court to award actual damages to the merchant, return of merchandise, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Intent is a key element of retail theft in PA. If a person is found to be intentionally concealing merchandise either on the premises or outside the premises of the store that has not yet been purchased from a store, there will be a prima facie presumption that the person had the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession of the merchandise without paying full value for it.
If there is other evidence to substantiate the crime, the conviction is not avoided merely because the prosecution cannot produce the stolen merchandise.
If the merchant’s employee or another agent of the merchant has probable cause to believe that a retail theft has occurred, then that individual may detain the suspect in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable amount of time to verify the identity of the suspect, investigate whether the suspect has unpurchased merchandise, to recover possession of unpurchased merchandise, and/or contact law enforcement.
All elements of the crime have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a successful prosecution. One element of the retail theft crime is intent. Intent can be presumed when the merchandise is concealed on the person. The evidence of concealment must be definitive. If goods are not found to be concealed and there is no other evidence of intent, the Commonwealth will often not meet its burden.
There must also be probable cause to conduct a lawful detention and search of an individual. If there is no probable cause, then there will most likely not be a conviction.
RETAIL THEFT DEFENSE ATTORNEYS – THE MARTIN LAW FIRM, P.C.
Hiring a lawyer who advocates for you will show the officer and the Judge that you are taking this matter seriously and it will increase your chances of a successful outcome. Contact our criminal defense attorneys at 215-687-4053 to discuss the facts and circumstances surrounding your detention and the arrest for retail theft.