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Shoplifting

Can You Be Prosecuted for Shoplifting After Leaving the Store?

Shoplifting may seem like a low-level crime committed mostly by rebellious teenagers, but the Louisiana state statute considers it to be a severe offense. Getting caught and charged with shoplifting in Louisiana can mean facing fines and even jail time.

Even still, many people have a lot of questions about Louisiana shoplifting laws. For example, can you be prosecuted for shoplifting after leaving the store?

Here’s what you need to know.

What Counts as Shoplifting?

Shoplifting has its own statute under Louisiana theft laws. It’s called “theft of goods,” and it occurs whenever you take something from a store or merchant without paying for it. That can include putting something in your bag and walking out of the store, but it also includes acts like:

  • Transferring price tags
  • Altering price tags
  • Damaging goods to make them unsalable
  • Tampering with the cash register

If caught, any of these acts can result in civil or criminal shoplifting charges.

But when do these charges apply? In the store? Outside the store? After you leave?

Can You Be Prosecuted for Shoplifting After Leaving the Store?

The most uncomplicated shoplifting charges for the state or store to prove are when you get caught shoplifting after leaving the store.

Some stores will only approach you for alleged shoplifting after you walk out the door. It’s hard to prove intent if the store sees you put something in a bag and wander the store with it. When you leave the store with an item you didn’t pay for or an item you tampered with, the case is considered to be relatively open and shut.

The state can bring criminal charges against you for up to three years after the date you were caught shoplifting.

Will the police find you if caught shoplifting on camera? The answer is often “yes.” For example, if you get caught shoplifting on camera in the store and then go to your car, they can see your license plates and identify you that way.

Additionally, if the camera catches you, then the store may have a record or photo of your face. If you return to the store, and the security team recognizes you, they may call the police or detain you themselves. 

Is a Store Allowed to Detain You for Shoplifting?

Let’s say a store suspects you of shoplifting. What happens next?

Many stores wait until you walk out the front door to accuse you of stealing because it gives their case a better chance of success. But a merchant (or their asset protection or security team) has the right to not only detain you but to use reasonable force to do so if they believe you are shoplifting.

A store can detain you for one hour unless they have reasonable circumstances to extend it. They can do this when they have reasonable cause to believe you committed theft.

As long as they have reasonable cause, the merchant has this right no matter the value of the products allegedly stolen. They can detain you for pocketing makeup, and they can hold you for switching labels on high-end televisions.

If a store detains you for questioning, you are not under arrest.

However, they can call the police, and a peace officer may arrest you. A peace offer doesn’t need a warrant to arrest you, and they can arrest you regardless of the value of the goods.

What Are the Penalties for Shoplifting in Louisiana? 

If you are arrested, charged, and convicted of shoplifting, your penalty will depend on the value of the goods stolen and whether you have past offenses on your record.

The scale of penalties for theft of goods is as follows:

  • $500 or less (with no more than one prior offense): fine up to $500 and jail of up to six months
  • $500 or less (with two or more prior offenses): fine of up to $1,000 and jail time of up to two years
  • $500-$1,500: fine of up to $2,000 and jail time of up to five years
  • $1,500 or more: fine of up to $3,000 and jail time of up to 10 years

As you can see, shoplifting can come with jail time even if its a first offense and even if the value of the stolen product is low. Keep in mind that a merchant also reserves the right to pursue a civil case against you, if they choose. They may do this in small claims court or even choose a full civil lawsuit.

However, first time shoplifting offenders may request what’s called pretrial diversion. These programs are an alternative to criminal prosecution. When you complete the program, the court dismisses the criminal charges.

What Are the Defenses for Shoplifting?

There are defenses available to those accused of shoplifting, but first, you need to know this: you can’t confess to shoplifting if detained by the store. The store has the right to hold you, and you should stay at the scene and agree to reasonable demands. However, the store cannot force you to confess. If you do, then any criminal charges are difficult to beat.

It’s essential for shoppers to understand this regardless of whether you engage in shoplifting or not. Retail loss prevention teams use interrogation tactics designed to encourage confessions. You don’t want to confess at all, particularly if you are falsely accused.

If the store decides to charge you, you will need a criminal defense attorney. They can encourage the store to lessen or even drop the charges. However, when they can’t, they can identify reasonable doubt in the store’s case against you.

Stores and States Take Shoplifting Seriously

To many people, shoplifting seems like a pretty minor non-violent crime. However, both merchants and the police take it seriously. Even if you intentionally shoplift and make it home without being approached, you’re not necessarily in the clear.

Can you be prosecuted for shoplifting after leaving the store? The answer is yes. Most accusations and charges occur after you walk out the front door. And they can charge you for shoplifting months or even years later.

Are you facing shoplifting accusations or charges? You need a criminal defense attorney to help. Contact Carl Barkemeyer, a criminal defense attorney in Baton Rouge, for a consultation on your shoplifting case.