New York Shoplifting from Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart is one of the largest retailers in the country with revenues of over $400 billion per year. With that comes a significant shoplifting problem. Because of this Wal-Mart devotes a substantial amount of time, money and manpower into loss prevention efforts. Wal-Mart employs both uniformed and undercover security guards. In fact Wal-Mart employs a lot of plain clothes security guards some of which look like teenagers. In addition, Wal-Mart uses several cameras in each store that have the ability to zoom in on and follow suspected shoplifters. The result is that each day multiple suspected shoplifters are detained at each Wal-Mart store. If you were arrested for shoplifting at Wal-Mart, you should contact an experienced New York Shoplifting from Wal-Mart Lawyer who is familiar with Wal-Mart's policies for handling suspected shoplifters and who will aggressively defend you against theft charges.
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While shoplifting may seem like a minor offense, it is actually a serious crime that could land you in prison for multiple years. Under the New York penal code shoplifting is a type of larceny. Larceny is a legal term for stealing property that belongs to someone else. N.Y. Pen. Law § 155.05. There are two general types of larceny: petit larceny and grand larceny. If the property that you are accused of stealing has a value that is less than $1,000 then you will be charged with petit larceny, a misdemeanor. N.Y. Pen. Law § 155.25. This is the charge that is most often applied to cases of shoplifting from retail stores. However, if you are accused of taking property from Wal-Mart that has a value of $1000 or more, then you will be charged with grand larceny, which is a felony.
Like any New York retail store, Wal-Mart's security guards may lawfully detain you if they have reason to suspect that you have shoplifted. Typically undercover Wal-Mart security guards will confront you in the store or as you are leaving the store if they suspect that you have shoplifted. In many cases a security guard would have observed you concealing merchandise or attempting to leave the store without paying for merchandise. However, if Wal-Mart does not have a good reason for believing that you shoplifted merchandise, then its security guards cannot lawfully detain you.
If you are suspected of shoplifting merchandise valued at $25 or more, Wal-Mart will call the police. While waiting for the police, Wal-Mart will try to get you to sign a confession as well as a statement that you will never enter Wal-Mart or Sam's Club property again. This is significant as if you do step on Wal-Mart or Sam's Club property again, you could be arrested for trespassing. Thus, you should not verbally or in writing confess to shoplifting or agree to refrain from entering Wal-Mart or Sam's Club property.
Wal-Mart security guards may say many different things to you to try to convince you to confess or agree to stay away from Wal-Mart. They may tell you that they have videotape showing you taking merchandise. While Wal-Mart does have cameras trained on practically every part of the store, that does not mean they have you on videotape. Even if they do have you on videotape, you should not confess or agree to stay away from Wal-Mart. Another favorite tactic of security guards is used when a group of 2 or more are suspected of shoplifting and are detained. Wal-Mart security guards will typically separate you from your friends and then tell you that your friends confessed and that you should do the same. Don't. The security guards may also tell you that if you sign a confession or sign a document agreeing not to return to Wal-Mart, they will not call the police. This is likely not true, particularly if the items that you are accused of stealing have a value of $25 or more. In fact, Wal-Mart probably already called the police.
While detaining you, Wal-Mart security guards must at all times be reasonable. They cannot use excessive force. This means that not only are they not permitted to physically abuse you, they also cannot verbally abuse you by calling you names, using foul language or threatening you. However, Wal-Mart security is permitted to handcuff you if necessary and are permitted to pay you down to ensure that you do not have a weapon. Wal-Mart also cannot detain you for an unreasonably long time. They can hold you long enough to investigate the incident or long enough for the police to arrive. They cannot delay contacting the police without a good reason.
While Wal-Mart usually calls the police, Wal-Mart security may not call police if the item you are accused of shoplifting has a value under $25 or if you are a minor. If you are a minor, Wal-Mart will call your parents. If you are an adult and the item has a value of under $25, after getting your contact information Wal-Mart will probably let you go. However, that does not mean the incident has been completely resolved. A few days after the incident Wal-Mart will send you a letter demanding that you pay 5 times the value of the item you are suspected of stealing. This is permissible under New York law. N.Y. GOB. LAW § 11-105.
In cases where Wal-Mart calls the police, the police may arrest you and immediately take you into custody, or the police might issue you a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT). Police will issue DATs only a cases where the suspected shoplifter does not have a criminal record, has proper identification, and where the property has a relatively low value. The DAT will name the crime with which you are charged and the date, time and place for you first court hearing. You are required to appear in court on that date and time, otherwise the judge will issue a warrant for your arrest. At the hearing you will be arraigned. You will be formally charged with petit larceny or grand larceny. You may also be charged with additional crimes if the prosecutor feels such charges are warranted. For example, there is a good chance that you will also be charged with criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree, a misdemeanor, or criminal possession of stolen property in the fourth degree, a felony. N.Y. Pen. Law §§ 165.40, 165.45.
Wal-Mart has little tolerance for shoplifting and is aggressive about stopping suspected shoplifters. The result of a petit larceny or grand larceny shoplifting conviction could include a fine, probation, jail, prison, restitution, plus civil penalties. However, just because you are detained or arrested for shoplifting does not mean that you shoplifted or that you will ultimately be convicted of shoplifting. There are often defenses that could be used to get larceny charges reduced or dismissed. The staff at Stephen Bilkis & Associates, PLLC has years of experience successfully defending clients in New York criminal courts who are accused of shoplifting from Wal-Mart. In addition, we have also successfully represented clients charged with other crimes such as burglary, robbery, credit card fraud, criminal trespass, drug possession, domestic violence as well as other types of crimes. Contact us at 1.800.NY.NY.LAW (1.800.696.9529) to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case.