Utah law does not take shoplifting lightly, regardless of the value of the item. When charged for shoplifting or retail theft, you can face serious fines or even jail time.
A lot of people don’t understand that they can get accused of retail theft or shoplifting even if they didn’t leave the store. The only thing required is passing the item through the point-of-sale terminal and getting caught with it.
You can be accused of retail theft even for simply hiding a merchandise with or without the intent of stealing it. Being caught with an item can be used as circumstantial evidence against you. To stay on the safe side, you should never put merchandise in your purse, even if you intend to buy it later on.
Most of the time, people don’t really know how to act when they’re caught shoplifting or when they are accused of shoplifting. A lot of people don’t know what to expect. Here’s the most likely scenario:
A shoplifting warning sign in Walmart. Image: Mike Mozart via Flickr
What usually happens in the store when you are accused of or caught shoplifting?
- A shopkeeper has the right to detain you and will detain you. Whether you’re guilty or innocent, the shopkeeper will normally bring you to the backroom and detain you for a reasonable amount of time.
- The shopkeeper will try to question you. They may ask where the merchandise is. They may ask where you put the label (in case you removed the label or changed the label to present a lower price for the merchandise).
- The shopkeeper may try to search your purse. You should not consent to any search of your property. See more below.
- The shopkeeper may or may not call the police. Sometimes they don’t if the item value is very low.
- The store may trespass you. This means you would not be allowed to come to the store unless that store decides to re-allow or re-admit you.
Returning to the store without obtaining permission can constitute another criminal offense of criminal trespass. This happens more than you’d like to think.
What should you do when caught shoplifting?
While temporarily detained, there’s nothing stopping the shopkeeper from asking you questions, but you have to be persistent in not answering.
You can say something like, “I respect you but I would like to invoke my right to remain silent. I do not consent to any search, I demand to have an attorney present immediately.”
This is where a criminal defense attorney becomes very important.
Thomas Weber, a Utah criminal defense attorney at Weber Law, advises keeping a card of your criminal defense attorney with you. “Hand the card to whoever is detaining you and immediately demand an attorney. That way, there’s physical, tangible evidence in police possession that you have demanded an attorney,” explains Weber.
If the police do come and the police do charge you, an attorney can help you fight the case.
“Most shoplifting cases, though not all, go to the Utah Justice Court system. The Justice Court System is Utah’s misdemeanor court system. However if you have multiple instances in your criminal history of retail theft, your retail theft could be enhanced to a felony,” explains Weber.
“I’ve had clients who had felony retail theft before, and it’s very serious and once you get to that level, you’d start to look at some serious jail time associated with your offense. Most people who get to that level usually have some sort of clinical problem, like kleptomania, or they may just be really having a hard time dealing with theft.”
In summary, what must you immediately do when you are accused of or caught shoplifting?
There are three things:
- First, you should remain completely silent except to give your name and your identity
- Second, you should not consent to any search of your person, your cellphone, your car or your home.
- Third, you should immediately demand an attorney to be present.
What are the penalties for retail theft or shoplifting in Utah?
The Utah State Legislature Code 76-6-602 defines acts constituting retail theft which also include altering or removing price tags, transferring the merchandise to a different packaging container, concealment, and stealing shopping carts.
Shoplifting is usually a misdemeanor, which is one of two crimes in Utah, the other being a felony.
Utah Code 76-6-412, outlines the penalties for retail theft as follows:
As a Class B Misdemeanor: If the dollar value of the merchandise stolen is $500 and below. When proven guilty, you can be penalized with a jail sentence of up to 6 months and a fine of up to $1,000.
As a Class A Misdemeanor: If the dollar value of the merchandise stolen is or exceeds $500 but is less than $1,500; theft occurs on a property where the offender has committed any theft within the past five years and offender has received written notice from the merchant prohibiting the offender from entering the property.
Penalties for Class A Misdemeanor retail theft include serving a jail sentence for up to a year and a fine of $2500.
The fines and jail times go higher when you are convicted of felony.
Long-term negative effects of retail theft conviction
It’s not just the fines and penalties you would want to avoid when facing a possible trial for retail theft. More importantly you would want to keep your record clean of any crime. A record can cause you to potentially lose employment or for your license to get cancelled by federal or state licensing agencies.
“This is especially true if you have a sensitive job, for instance, working in a bank, then getting charged of retail theft is really bad.”
“We’re prepared to help everybody regardless of whether they’re guilty. And regardless of how many times they may have committed this crime,” Weber says.