It’s a victimless crime. The store just writes off the loss. The rich manufacturer doesn’t care about theft. Aggressive marketing campaigns create uncontrollable urges to acquire merchandise. The cops don’t even respond to petty retail theft cases. Prosecutors quickly drop these cases if, by some miracle, they make it to court.
Shoplifting excuses abound. But the fact is that retailers lose over $13 billion to retail theft every year. That money would mean lots of raises for lots of low-wage workers. Additionally, in the competitive retail world, that money could make the difference between profit and loss. Therefore, retailers treat such theft very seriously, even if local prosecutors and police officers don’t treat it that way.
Many retailers use their political clout to goad police into action. Store detectives often file sworn complaints with police officers, who use these complaints to obtain arrest warrants. Once a warrant is in the system, it remains in the system until someone, somewhere arrests that person. We represent many people who were arrested for warrants that were more than ten years old.
Police action leads to court action. Prosecutors pay attention to cases that have vocal witnesses with lots of clout, mostly for political purposes. So, there’s no guarantee that the state will drop the case. A partnership with a Marietta criminal defense lawyer doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome either. But the likelihood of such an outcome goes through the roof.
Elements of the Offense
Theft by shoplifting is one of the three kinds of theft prohibited in the Georgia Code. In case you’re wondering, the other two are theft by deception and just plain theft, usually keeping rental property past the due date. The following acts are theft by shoplifting in Cobb County:
- Concealing Merchandise: Frequently, shoppers put a pair of shorts at the bottom of a stack so no one else buys them. In fact, we’ve probably done that before, but we’re pretty sure the statute of limitations has run.
- Taking Possession of Merchandise: One of the most persistent shoplifting myths is that suspects have to leave the store with the merchandise. Not true. These cases are simply easier to prove. People take possession of merchandise when they move it with the intent to steal it.
- Altering the Price: Similarly, this offense is complete when a person changes the price tag or otherwise alters the price with the intent to pay less than full value. If an alert cashier spots the attempted theft and blocks the transaction, retail theft charges could still hold up in court.
Many stores have cameras everywhere and anti-theft devices on pretty much anything more valuable than a rubber band. Therefore, old school stuff-the-game-in-your-jacket shoplifting isn’t as common as it once was.
Conspiracy shoplifting, on the other hand, is on the rise. A shopper comes to the register with three jackets. The cashier scans one jacket. Then, the two people divide the booty.
Stores aggressively pursue these cases. As mentioned, pretty much everyone is on candid camera, including cashiers. When stores review this footage, the conspiracy quickly unravels. The footage, along with a detailed complaint, then go straight to the nearest police precinct.
Additionally, if one other person, like a boss or a lookout, is involved, Georgia’s street gang law could apply. The enhancement provision could transform a minor misdemeanor into a felony.
Direct and Indirect Consequences
Street gang enhancements aren’t very common in retail theft cases, even if the shoplifting conspiracy meets the three-participant rule. That doesn’t mean that these defendants get off light.
A retail theft conviction usually means at least six months of court supervision. 180 days is not long enough to justify a motion for early discharge from probation, at least in most cases. Therefore, most retail theft defendants end up doing the entire six months.
At least, they try to do the entire six months. Probation revocation motions are very common in these cases. Typical violations include:
- Picking up a new case,
- Possessing a prohibited item, like drugs or a weapon,
- Failing to report to a supervision officer (this infraction includes reporting without required documents, like a school report card or a paystub),
- Not working and/or attending school full time,
- Falling behind on child support or alimony,
- Failing to complete a class or a community service requirement, and
- Not paying restitution, fines, supervision fees, or other required fees.
Prosecutors must only prove these violations by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s a much lower standard of evidence than beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard of proof at a criminal trial.
Assume Dave is with friends who are passing a joint. In criminal court, prosecutors must normally prove Dave held the joint. But if Dave was on probation, they must only prove he was in the room.
Retail theft convictions have significant indirect consequences as well, mostly because retail theft is a crime of moral turpitude.
CMT convictions could have immigration consequences. Frequently, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer can use the petty crime exception or another loophole to negotiate a favorable deal, like a suspended sentence, or even beat the case in immigration court.
These convictions always have civil court consequences. In some cases, a CMT conviction disqualifies a person from being a witness in a civil case. That includes testifying on one’s own behalf in a family law matter. In other cases, a CMT conviction erodes witness credibility so much that it effectively disqualifies the witness.
Most retail theft cases go to court because store detective strongly press these matters. The lack of a compelling witness also torpedoes these cases.
As mentioned, most prosecutors don’t particularly care about retail theft cases. That’s especially true of the store didn’t lose any money. If the store loses interest in the case, even slightly, prosecutors usually lose interest as well.
We discussed witness issues in civil court above. Retail theft criminal prosecutions often have witness issues as well.
This weakness often involves time. Since officers often don’t immediately arrest these suspects, a case could go to trial a year or more following the alleged offense. By that time, the store detective, who is the key material witness, is often unavailable. Typically, no witness means no case.
Such proof issues often prompt prosecutors to dismiss the case or offer an extremely favorable plea deal, like a shorter period of probation.
Authorities don’t blow off retail theft cases, and neither should defendants. For a free consultation with an experienced Marietta criminal law attorney, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. The sooner you reach out to us, the sooner we start fighting for you.