It may seem like a minor charge, something kids get in trouble for when they try to sneak an extra candy bar out of the store. But a shoplifting charge can have serious consequences -- to your criminal record and your bank account -- especially if the charge is a mistake, like you were not charged for something or the cashier forgot to remove the magnetic sensor.
Whether you're planning on fighting the charge, or just want to make sure you're getting the best plea bargain, you should probably hire a lawyer if you've been charged with shoplifting.
It Can Go on Your Record
Most states include shoplifting under their criminal larceny statutes, which prohibit taking property without permission. Whether a shoplifting conviction will go on your criminal record generally depends on the severity of the charge, which it turn will generally depends on the value of what you have been accused of stealing.
For example, a low-level shoplifting charge might be dealt with through a criminal citation, which may not go on your record. However, if the value involved is high enough, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony, which would definitely end up on your record.
It Can Affect Your Credit
Depending on how the shop or store handles your case, a shoplifting conviction could affect your credit. While most crimes don't directly impact your credit rating, some stores will send shoplifters a civil demand letter, ordering them to reimburse the store or pay the store a civil fine on top of a criminal fine associated with a shoplifting conviction.
These demand letters threaten legal action if the accused or convicted shoplifter doesn't pay, and it's possible a negative civil judgment could affect your credit. But most of the civil demand letters are more bark than bite, and many stores don't follow through with enforcing them.
You Can Challenge the Charge
A shoplifting charge does not necessarily mean a shoplifting conviction. You can challenge a shoplifting charge based on a mistake by the store, a mistake by witnesses, or a failure of prosecutors to prove the elements of the charge. An experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to best advise you on how to respond to a shoplifting charge, so if you've been charged with shoplifting, contact an attorney near you.