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Prince William County Shoplifting Lawyer

Shoplifting is not an official legal offense in Virginia. However, there is a statute specifically adopted to criminalize common theft scenarios that occur inside stores, which is informally referred to as the “shoplifting” statute. This statute criminalizes concealing property with the intent to steal while inside a store, as well as altering price tags of merchandise while inside a store.

If you were charged with shoplifting, you could face serious penalties including heavy fines and jail time. Reach out to a dedicated Prince William County shoplifting lawyer to discuss your case. Having a capable defense lawyer by your side could be the best way to combat your charges.

Elements of a Shoplifting Offense

The shoplifting offenses of concealment and price alteration are codified in the Virginia Code § 18.2-103. The elements of shoplifting are:

  • That the accused took possession of property and concealed it about his person or belongings or altered any price markings on the property
  • That the concealment or alteration was done with the intent to permanently acquire property from the owner’s possession without paying the full purchase price
  • That the property was either worth less than $200 or more than $200, which changes the potential penalties

Difference Between Shoplifting and Larceny

The key difference between traditional larceny and shoplifting offenses is that the latter are easier to prove because they do not require a defendant to leave the store with the property in question, or even walk past all points of sale within the store. The elements of shoplifting offenses are complete the instant someone inappropriately takes possession of property that is sitting on a shelf or rack, even if they are very far away from any registers or store exits at the time.

Penalties for Shoplifting

The possible penalties of a shoplifting conviction are the same as the penalties for normal theft. However, stealing from a shop is more likely to result in an accused being banned by the Court from returning to that shop again in the future, or even all shops located anywhere in Virginia that are owned by the same victim or business.

Misdemeanor shoplifting, like misdemeanor theft, is a Class 1 Misdemeanor in Virginia. The statutory punishment is up to 12 months in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. These are in addition the restitution costs for the victim as well as court costs.

Shoplifting will be charged as a felony if the property at issue was worth $200 or more, or if the offender has two or more prior theft convictions on their record. These prior convictions do not have to be felonies, nor do they have to have occurred in Virginia.

Second-Time Offenders

Virginia has a specific enhancement statute which requires that a person who is convicted of a theft offense for a second time receives at least 30 days in jail. However, the statute does not make those 30 days a mandatory minimum term of incarceration, meaning that a court can still suspend all or part of those days in its discretion. But the accused will still have to be sentenced to at least 30 days in jail as opposed to less than 30 days or no jail time at all.

Defense Strategies

Lawyers who are defending clients charged with shoplifting will start negotiations with the alleged victim or the prosecutor as a matter of course, even if the client intends to completely dispute the charges. Sometimes these negotiations can result in a full dismissal or dropping of the case, and other times it will serve to better facilitate the acquisition of evidence against the accused.

Once a defense attorney has discovered all of the notable evidence in the case, they will review that evidence with the client to explore whether innocent explanations exist in the client’s favor, such as confusion due to language barriers, unfamiliarity with check-out machines, or accidental bundling of property within other property that was properly paid for. Sometimes the shopper simply forgets that they have temporarily taken possession of item while they are browsing within the store for a substantial portion of time before exiting, which is also a common defense to the “intent” element of shoplifting.

Contact a Prince William County Shoplifting Attorney

If you were accused of shoplifting, your next step should be contacting a Prince William County shoplifting lawyer. A skilled defense attorney could examine the facts of the case and tailor a defense to your circumstances. Call today to get started on your case.

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