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Retail Theft Archives

Pennsylvania Retail Theft Law is Not the Only Thing "The Goldbergs" Gets Wrong

If you watched a recent episode of the ABC sitcom, "The Goldbergs," you would have been led to believe that retail theft in Pennsylvania is a minor inconvenience and embarrassment resulting in nothing more than being banned from the store in question. In the episode "Shopping," which aired on December 3, 2013, mother Bev Goldberg abuses her daughter Erica's employee discount at Gimble's department store, to the point that Erica risks being fired. Erica retaliates by slipping an unpaid item into Bev's shopping bag, leading mall security to nab her when an alarm goes off as she exits the store.

Retail Theft in Pennsylvania is Not "Just Like a Traffic Ticket!"

As a criminal defense lawyer with an office two blocks away from Penn State University, I get calls every day from otherwise intelligent students who suffered a momentary lapse of judgment. Although most lapses of judgment occur when drunk, retail theft is a crime which is usually committed by sober people. Among college students, it tends to be a crime of opportunity with no pre-planning, while professional shoplifters, known as "boosters," have elaborate systems to avoid detection. Not surprisingly, it is the non-professionals who are most likely to be caught by store security.

Retail Theft Does Not Always Involve Removal of Items from Store

The classic retail theft scenario involves hiding items, and then walking right out the front door of a store without paying for them. Yet not all retail thefts follow this pattern. Under Pennsylvania law, one form or retail theft involves consuming or tampering with items in a store without paying for them. In German, there is even a term for such behavior, which is not surprising, as the German language seems to have a term for every concept. It is called Mundraub, which translates to something like "mouth robbery." Although, retail theft is legally quite distinct from a robbery, I still love the imagery evoked by the term.

Retail Theft Convictions Carry Long-Term Repercussions

I have lost track of how many calls I have received from a frantic recent college graduate, who has just been fired from her new job, after the company obtained her criminal background check. The caller goes on to explain that she pled guilty to a retail theft while a student at Penn State. Usually, the item in question was valued at under $10. The caller goes on to say that a lady at the magisterial district court told her it was no big deal, it was "just like a traffic ticket," and if she pled guilty, there would just be a fine and court costs. (I use feminine prepositions here because retail theft is one of the only crimes, which females commit as often as, if not more often, than males).

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