New York Shoplifting

Shoplifting is a serious problems for retailers. Some estimate that shoplifting costs retailers billions of dollars each year. For this reason both retailers and New York prosecutors take shoplifting very seriously. In New York the legal term or shoplifting is larceny. 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. N.Y. Pen. Law § 155.25. Most cases of shoplifting result in a charge of petit larceny. However, if the property has a value of more than $1,000, then the charge will be grand larceny. N.Y. Pen. Law § 155.30. In order to minimize shoplifting losses, retail establishments aggressively fight retail theft by using both loss prevention technology such as video cameras, anti-theft sensor tags and electronic security monitors, as well as uniformed and undercover security guards to try to catch people suspected of stealing merchandise. If you are caught shoplifting, in addition to the criminal charges that you may face, you may also face civil penalties. Under New York law a retailer that is the victim of shoplifting can sue for five times the amount of the items stolen. N.Y. GOB. LAW § 11-105. Because of the potential criminal penalties and civil liability, if you have been charged with shoplifting or any other theft charge, it is important to speak with a New York Petit Larceny Lawyer who will explain to you your legal rights and aggressively defend you throughout the criminal process.

Theft by shoplifting can take many different forms. It can involve simply slipping unpaid for merchandise into your pocket, purse or shopping bag. If you switch the pricetag on an item to a lower price and then pay a lower price, that is also a form of shoplifting. Some steal from stores by putting items with anti-theft sensor tags into specially designed shopping bags that "fool" the electronic security monitors at store entrances. Sometimes customers work with store employees who assist the customer in not paying for merchandise or paying less than the actual price for the merchandise.

Many New York retailers employ security guards to identify and detain suspected shoplifters. Some security guards wear uniforms while others wear plain clothes. In their zeal to catch shoplifters some security guards behave too aggressively. If a security guard suspects you of shoplifting, he or she has the right to detain you. However, the security guard must have a good reason to suspect you of shoplifting. This means that the guard must have a reasonable belief that you have shoplifted. They cannot detain you randomly or based on factors such as your nationality, race, or ethnicity.

In detaining you, the security guards must do so in a reasonable manner. They may not use excessive force. For example, in cases where it is warranted, security guards may use handcuffs to detail you. However, they cannot misuse handcuffs in a manner that is injurious to you. Security guards also may not use other forms of physical excessive force, or verbal excessive force. Using foul language, racial slurs, or threats may be construed as excessive force. While security guards can detain you long enough to conduct an investigation of the incident or to wait for the arrival of police, they cannot hold you for an unreasonably long times. Some retailers are known for regularly holding shoplifting suspects unnecessarily for hours.

Part of the impetus for aggressive behavior on the part of security guards is an attempt to secure a quick confession. Other tactics to secure a confession include telling you things which often are not true. For example, the store security guard may tell you that you will not be permitted to leave the store until you sign the confession. The guard may even tell you that if you sign a confession, you will not be arrested. The store may say that they have you on videotape. These statements may or may not be true. Regardless, you should refrain from signing a confession or verbally confess. Whatever you say to the store security guards and whatever you put in writing or sign will likely be use against you by the prosecutor if you end up being arrested and charged with a crime such as petit larceny, grand larceny, or possession of stolen property. Even when the police do arrive, you should cooperate, but still refrain from signing anything or admitting to anything. Instead, you should immediately request to speak with your lawyer who will then speak for you.

Despite what the security guard thinks he or she saw, in some cases the security guard is wrong and charges of petit larceny are not warranted. If you are with a friend who did indeed shoplift, the store security guard may assume that you also shoplifted. However, if you did not personally take anything or help your friend take merchandise, then you have not shoplifted and should not be charged. There are also instances in which while it may have appeared that you slipped something into your pocket or into your handbag, you did not. There are a variety of reasons that while holding merchandise you may also place your hand in your pocket or handbag. You may be reaching for a phone, a pen, or your wallet. Or, while it may have appeared as if you were going to walk out of the store without paying for merchandise when that was not your intent. If you never left the store with unpaid for merchandise, it is a reasonable conclusion that you did not steal anything or that you did not have the intention to steal anything.

If you are accused of shoplifting, the security guards at the store may call the police. The police may arrest you and take you into custody. In the alternative, the police officer may issue a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT). Instead of immediately being taken into custody, with a DAT you will be required to appear in court on the date and time indicated on the DAT. If you fail to do so, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. At the hearing you will be officially charged with petit larceny or grand larceny. Even though the DAT may only mention one criminal charge, at your hearing the prosecutor may decide that additional charges are warranted such as criminal possession of stolen property.

Criminal possession of stolen property is often a charge that accompanies a charge of petit larceny. Criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree is a Class A misdemeanor. N.Y. Pen. Law § 165.40. If the value of the property that you are accused of shoplifting is over $1,000, you may be charged with both grand larceny in the fourth degree and criminal possession of stolen property in the fourth degree. Both of these crimes are felonies. N.Y. Pen. Law §§ 155.30, 165.45. In fact, the prosecutor will seek to make sure that you are charged with grand larceny and not petit larceny by placing the highest possible value on the merchandise that you are accused of stealing. However, New York law has specific rules as to how to value stolen property. Property must be valued at the market value of the property at the time and place of the theft, or the cost of replacement of the property within a reasonable time after the theft. N.Y. Pen. Law § 155.20.

Whether you are charged with petit larceny, grand larceny or any other theft-related charge, if you are convicted the consequences go beyond your sentence of a fine, jail, prison, or probation. A larceny conviction may also lead to:

  • Restitution
  • Civil penalties
  • Being banned from the retailer
  • Criminal record
  • Difficulty obtaining employment
  • Difficulty securing a professional license

If you have been accused of shoplifting, petit larceny, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property or any other retail theft crime, it is important to seek legal guidance right away. While shoplifting may seem like "no big deal," the consequences of this crime can be significant. The staff at Stephen Bilkis & Associates, PLLC has years of experience successfully defending clients in New York criminal courts who are accused of shoplifting, other types of theft, as well as other crimes. Contact us at 1.800.NY.NY.LAW (1.800.696.9529) to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case

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