What is Shoplifting?
Shoplifting is a criminal offense that entails the taking of merchandise from a store through physical theft or fraudulent means. Shoplifting is considered, in most jurisdictions, to be a minor theft offense and can result in penalties as small as community service to an extensive prison sentence. Shoplifting is not just the actual stealing of merchandise but can include the altering of price tags, and other forms of deception that result in the possession of property of a store through an illegal act.
The penalties associated with shoplifting can be minor or exhorbitent. In New York State a person convicted of shoplifting merchandise with a value of less than $100 will be required to to 2 days of community service. For shoplifting of merchandise more than $100 but less than $500 there can be a fine. If there is shoplifting of more than $500 but less than $1000 then you can be subjected to jail time of up to one year. When the value of the goods is more than $1000 a person accused of shoplifting will be charged with grand larceny and can be put in prison, if convicted, for 1 – 20 years.
In addition to the criminal charges an individual can be subjected to a lawsuit by the store for damages. Every state is different in what they allow for damage awards from a civil shoplifting suit but some states will allow a plaintiff to collect up to five times the value of the stolen property.
Why do I need a shoplifting lawyer?
Shoplifting is a very serious charge. Not only will you be subjected to community service, fines and possible imprisonment but you will also deal with public stigma. Once you are taken from a store and arrested for shoplifting you can be subjected to shame and ridicule associated with the crime. Aside from the penalties associated with a conviction you will want to set the record straight amongst the community, friends and family.
A shoplifting lawyer will fight hard for you to defend yourself against, what can be, improper and erroneous allegations. A shoplifting lawyer is in the best position to prove your innocence or reduce your penalty. In addition, the civil penalties that you may incur from the shoplifting charge can cost you thousands of dollars.
Just because you were not convicted of criminal shoplifting does not mean that you will not be found guilty of shoplifting in a civil action. In order to prove a criminal charge a prosecutor must prove that you are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” however, in a civil action the jury must only be convinced of your guilt by a “preponderance of the evidence.” Therefore you can be found guilty in a civil action even though you were acquitted in a criminal action. Shoplifting lawyers will help you absolve yourself of all charges, both civil and criminal.
A shoplifting lawyer will also help you against the store itself. There is a law in most states called a “shopkeepers privilege.” This privilege allows shopkeepers, and their security, to detain suspected shoplifters. Often the shoplifters and the staff are ill trained to make these decisions. They are not law enforcement and often detain people who have done nothing or detained people in a way that oversteps their authority. When this happens a victim of shopkeepers privilege should contact a shoplifting lawyer to ensure that you get retribution for wrongful shoplifting allegations that cause you embarrassment.
Qualifications & Experience
When looking for a shoplifting lawyer you want one that is an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Even though shoplifting can be a minor offense it can have a long lasting stigma and the charge of shoplifting will remain on your criminal record for the rest of your life. You should look for a number of shoplifting lawyers and narrow them down by factors including cost, experience, specialization and other factors.
Fees & Rates
When you are choosing on a shoplifting lawyer it is important to keep rates and fees in mind. Rates of shoplifting lawyers will vary depending on their experience and specialization in the fields. A shoplifting lawyer who has been practicing law for 20 years is going to charge more than a shoplifting lawyer who is right out of law school. A shoplifting lawyer with a specialized certification by a respected criminal law organization will also be more expensive than one without. Rates will also depend on the extent of the charge against you. If you are charged with petty theft than a shoplifting lawyer may not even be necessary or will be a low fee. However if you are charged with grand larceny and are facing up to 20 years in prison you will want the best shoplifting lawyer you can afford.
Shoplifting lawyers will usually charge a standard retainer fee and then an hourly fee that corresponds with the amount of time they devote to your case. The hourly fee will be deducted from your retainer and then, if the case goes on longer, then you may be required to add another retainer fee. There may also be other fees involved in your representation. You will be charged for private investigators, faxing, copying and you may also be charged for the services of the shoplifting lawyers staff including clerks, paralegals and administrative staff. One of the first things you will want to do when meeting with a shoplifting lawyer is discuss these fees and expenses and get them in writing. Once a shoplifting lawyer agrees to certain fees he, or she, may not rescind the agreement and increase the charges. It is illegal and unethical resulting in possible sanctions by the local Bar Associations disciplinary committee.
What questions do I ask?
When interviewing potential shoplifting lawyers you want to have specific questions ready for the shoplifting lawyer. The shoplifting lawyer is trying to sell you his service, much like a used car salesman. They have superior negotiating skills and if you are prepared you have a better chance of getting the representation that you deserve rather than a mediocre lawyer with a nice smile and a shiny suit. Some questions that may be beneficial to ask a shoplifting lawyer include:
■ Where did you go to law school?
■ What are your rates? How will I be billed?
■ How long will my case take to be resolved?
■ How much of your practice is in larceny and criminal defense?
■ Do you think I will have to do jail time?
■ How are you going to attack this case?
■ What do you see as the result?
■ Will you also represent me in a civil matter stemming from the shoplifting charge?