In Pennsylvania, anyone who is suspected of shoplifting is charged with violation of the retail theft statute. Generally speaking, you can be convicted of retail theft if the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can prove that you took possession of merchandise that is offered for sale by a store with the intent of depriving the seller of the merchandise without paying for it.
When convicted you would face penalties that are related to the value of the merchandise and whether you have any prior convictions. When it is your first offense and the value of the merchandise is under $150, then it is considered a summary offense. However, the most serious charge could be graded as a felony of the third degree when the amount involved exceeds $1,000.00 or if the merchandise is a firearm or motor vehicle.
Pennsylvania criminal lawyers who have experience with retail theft matters have seen many different scenarios that lead to the arrest. For example, switching labels or tags on merchandise so the person pays less than the actual price of the item could implicate the statute. Another example would be eating goods inside a store and then walking out of the store without paying for them. If you are charged with retail theft you should immediately hire a lawyer to represent you.
The evidence against you may be stacked in the prosecution’s favor. Nowadays, most stores and retail establishments have video surveillance. In addition, most stores hire security personnel who dress like shoppers to walk around and pursue suspected shoplifters. Sometimes these personnel hide in the ceiling and view the store from above. At your trial or hearing the video of the incident and/or the statements of the security personnel will be offered into evidence to prove the theft occurred.
So what can your criminal lawyer do? The most common defense is proving a lack of criminal intent. In order to be convicted, it is not enough that you have possession of the merchandise because the Commonwealth must prove that you intended to deprive the seller of it without paying full value for it. If you put something in your pocket while intending to return it or pay for it, then the act may not rise to the level of a retail theft. This can be difficult to prove because presumptions of intent to exist; however, your actions before and after the arrest, your testimony at trial and your credibility can all play an important role in proving a lack of intent.
Another approach your lawyer can take is to file a motion for suppression of the evidence. If the video cannot be authenticated or if a statement from a third party who did not witness the event are offered up by the prosecution, then the rules of evidence may preclude the evidence from being introduced at trial.
A conviction for a summary offense for retail theft may be expunged after five (5) years; however convictions for misdemeanors or felonies cannot. Retail theft is a crime that relates to your honesty and integrity and this type of conviction will always raise concerns for future employees who may be considering hiring you. Therefore, your criminal attorney may seek an alternative disposition for the charges or work towards a negotiated plea on your behalf. You should only plead guilty after consulting an experienced criminal lawyer who will explain to you the charge, the potential penalties, and the effect the guilty plea will have on your future.