Petty Theft and Shoplifting

Shoplifting is a very common crime in Massachusetts. Many people consider shoplifting to be a minor crime, but the penalties for a petty theft or shoplifting conviction can be very serious and include not only fines, but also jail time, and result in a permanent criminal record.

What are the charges for shoplifting in Massachusetts?

Shoplifting doesn't just include slipping an item into your purse or pocket and walking out the store. It applies to many kinds of theft or larceny from a retail store. Any person who intentionally takes possession of, carries away, or transfers any merchandise from any store or retail establishment, intending to deprive the merchant of possession, without paying the value can be charged with the crime of shoplifting.

Shoplifting also applies to anyone who intentionally conceals merchandise, intending to steal it without paying for it. Changing tags, or changing prices on items with the intent to not pay the value for the item is considered shoplifting. Even taking a shopping cart from a store with the intent to deprive the owner of the cart is shoplifting.

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 266, Section 30a.

What are the penalties for shoplifting?

The penalties for shoplifting will depend on the value of the items taken, or attempted to have taken from the store. If the retail value is less than $100, then the offense is a misdemeanor, and is subject to a fine of $250. A second offense of less than $100 is subject to an increased fine of up to $500. A third offense is treated much more seriously. In addition to a possible $500 fine, a third shoplifting conviction can result in imprisonment in jail for up to two years.

For shoplifting something of value of $100 or more, the penalties for even a first offense can include jail time of up to two and a half years, as well as a $1,000 fine. This could mean that shoplifting an item with a retail value of $99 could result in a simple fine, but if it's retail value is just $1 more, jail time could result.

In determining whether the theft is of an item of more or less than $100, it doesn't matter if you think that the item isn't worth what it's retail sticker says. For example, if someone sees a watch at one store, and it costs $50, then they see it at another store sold for $100 and put it into their pocket without intending to pay for it, the retail value is still considered to be $100 or more, even though another store offers the same watch for half the price.

How is petty theft different from shoplifting?

Under Massachusetts law, what some call petty theft would be considered petty larceny. Shoplifting is a subsection of the larceny laws. The penalties associated with larceny, like shoplifting, can depend on the value of the stolen property. If the item is valued at $250 or less, it is often considered petty theft, or petty larceny, and the penalties can include jail for up to one year, and a fine of up to $300. Larceny of property valued at more than $250 can be punished by prison time of up to 5 years, and up to $25,000 in fines.

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 266, Section 30.

What are some possible defenses to shoplifting charges?

There are always defenses available to a criminal charge of petty theft or shoplifting. For example, if the person arrested for shoplifting did not intend to steal the item, or if they actually meant to pay to pay for the item, this could be a potential defense to the charge of shoplifting. In other cases, the store security guards or police officers may have stopped the wrong person, and instead an innocent person was arrested and charged with shoplifting.

Although it is not a defense, for some young first-time offenders, they may be eligible for a diversion program. A juvenile diversion program, or pretrial diversion program may be offered to youthful offenders charged with petty shoplifting. Upon successful completion of the diversion program, participants may walk away with a clean record.

The available defenses will depend on the specifics of your individual case. This is why it is important to talk to an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has successfully defended people charged with shoplifting or other petty theft charges. Even a first time petty shoplifting offense will result in a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) entry. This can have long lasting effects, which is why it's important to speak with a skilled criminal defense attorney to help you understand the charges and penalties you are facing, and what defenses may be available to protect your rights and keep you out of jail.