Experienced Defense Counsel Serving Clients Throughout Central Pennsylvania

Photo of Matt M. McClenahen
Photo of Matt M. McClenahen

Retail Theft

Defending Those Charged With Retail Theft (Shoplifting)

Shoplifting, which is called “retail theft” under the Pennsylvania crimes code, carries collateral consequences that are generally way out of proportion to the value of the stolen items in question. First of all, even if retail theft is charged as a summary offense, the defendant will be fingerprinted and photographed. This leads to a criminal record in databases maintained by both the Pennsylvania State Police and FBI, even if you only stole a candy bar.

A lot of people plead guilty to summary offense retail theft citations without realizing how serious the consequences are. The student who steals a tube of lipstick as an 18-year old freshman, pleads guilty and forgets about it is often shocked to discover she can’t get a job or an apartment after she graduates from Penn State.

Criminal Conviction And Your future

Although any criminal conviction makes it more difficult to obtain a job, potential employers view theft offenses with especial disdain. This is because employee theft is a major problem. Employers surmise that the best way to avoid employee theft is by not hiring those most likely to steal, and most people consider past conduct to be the best indicator of a person’s future conduct.

Retail theft is a “crimen falsi” offense, meaning that it is a crime of dishonesty. If a person with a conviction for a crimen falsi offense testifies in court, his or her credibility can be impeached. This means that a judge will instruct the jury that it should consider a witness’ prior theft conviction when gauging the witness’ credibility.

Minors Can Receive An Adult Conviction For Retail Theft

I remember a state trooper giving a presentation to my elementary school about the consequences of bad behavior. He gave an example of a seven-year-old boy who got caught shoplifting a toy and now has a criminal record. Well, Pennsylvania law has not changed since this trooper addressed the assembled students of Brown Elementary.

Unlike with most criminal offenses, a minor can receive an adult conviction for retail theft. This is because a summary offense is not an offense that is dealt with in juvenile court. Like adult summary offense cases, juvenile summary offenses are handled in magisterial district courts. The juvenile charged with retail theft will be fingerprinted and photographed, just like an adult. Thus, retail theft is the only offense for which a juvenile can receive an adult criminal record without a Court of Common Pleas judge certifying the juvenile’s case for prosecution in the adult system.

Retail Theft Is An Example Of A “Stacking Offense”

Retail theft is a classic example of a “stacking offense.” This means that every time a defendant receives a new conviction, the penalties increase. A first-offense retail theft is graded as a summary offense if the stolen merchandise is valued at less than $150. A second offense is graded as a second-degree misdemeanor or higher, while a third offense is always graded as a felony, even if the defendant merely stole a pack of gum.

Unlike driving under the influence (DUI), which has a 10-year “look-back” period for prior convictions, there is no look-back period for prior retail theft convictions. If you committed your first retail theft at age 15 and your second one at age 40, the second offense is going to be graded as at least a second-degree misdemeanor. A third retail theft offense is always charged as a felony, but that is not the only reason why there is a substantial risk of incarceration if convicted of a third retail theft. The other obvious reason is that judges and prosecutors are less inclined to give breaks to defendants who continue to commit the exact same offense. A skilled defense attorney may, however, be able to present enough mitigating factors to keep his client out of jail in a felony retail theft case.

Avoid A Damaging Conviction

Given the severe consequences of even a first-offense retail theft, it is of vital importance to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Sometimes, an attorney can achieve a result that allows you to avoid a damaging conviction, while in other cases, the goal will be to avoid incarceration.

Call For A Free Consultation With An Experienced Attorney

Each client of the McClenahen Law Firm P.C. in State College receives prompt service, close attention and the benefit of an attorney with years of experience representing people charged with crimes. If you or a loved one has been charged with retail theft, please contact us today at 814-308-0870. You may also complete the online contact form.