What to Do If You’re Charged With Shoplifting

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An experienced attorney can get your Missouri shoplifting charge dismissed completely or reduced to a lesser offense, such as “Littering,” with no court appearance required.

The outcome of your case depends on the following:

  • Do you have prior convictions for stealing, theft, or shoplifting?
  • How old are you?
  • Were you cooperative, or did you try to run away from the security guard or police?
  • Does your attorney have experience defending shoplifting cases?
  • Which court is your case being prosecuted in?
  • What type of items did you steal? (for example:  bottle of alcohol, food items, baby clothes, etc.)

Don’t Plead Guilty to Shoplifting

Some people think shoplifting is not a real crime. They don’t realize that a conviction for shoplifting, stealing, or petty theft will show up on their criminal background. Once you plead guilty to stealing, that conviction can never be expunged (removed) from your criminal record.

What Happens if You Plead Guilty to Shoplifting/Stealing/Petty Theft?

If you plead guilty or are convicted of shoplifting, stealing, or petty theft, the conviction will go on your permanent criminal record and will prevent you from getting a job, renting an apartment, getting a loan from a bank, and obtaining federal student loans.

The Maximum Penalty for Misdemeanor Stealing in Missouri is 1 Year in Jail and a $1,000 Fine

In Missouri, a shoplifter can be sentenced to up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine for each misdemeanor charge of stealing items valued at under $500. Stealing items valued at $500 or more is a felony and is a much more serious crime.

For more information, click here to read my previous blog post about penalties for shoplifting in Missouri.

Should You Pay the Store’s $250 Civil Demand?

Most stores send a “Civil Demand” letter to a shoplifter, demanding that the shoplifter pay $250 to reimburse the store for its expenses related to the theft.

In some situations, the store’s security guards or “Loss Prevention” personnel demand that the shoplifter pay the $250 immediately, before they leave the store. Security guards and store personnel can be very threatening and will lie to the shoplifter, telling them they can’t leave unless they pay immediately. They might refuse to allow the suspected shoplifter to call a family member or attorney, or they might use other tactics intended to intimidate, such as refusing to allow the shoplifter to use the bathroom while waiting several hours until the police arrive.

A common scheme is for the store’s security guard to tell a shoplifter that the civil demand is $250 today, but if you don’t pay immediately, the amount will increase to $500 tomorrow. This is a lie and is basically just a shakedown by the store.

Most Stores Don’t Sue Shoplifters

Missouri law does allow stores to sue shoplifters for up to $250. However, you don’t owe the store anything unless the store successfully sues you in civil court and wins a judgment against you.

Stores rarely sue shoplifters because the expense involved in suing is much more than the store’s actual damages. Most experienced attorneys advise their clients to ignore a store’s “civil demand.” But if you are being detained in a store and accused of shoplifting, you will be tempted to pay the civil demand in the hopes that the store will release you and not call the police.

Please Note:  Paying the $250 civil demand to the store does not ensure that the store will not call the police and file criminal charges against you.

What Happens if a Store Sues a Shoplifter?

If the store actually sues a shoplifter, the store can collect on its judgment by garnishing the defendant’s paycheck or bank account. The store can recover actual damages, a penalty of up to $250, plus court costs and reasonable attorney fees. The store can’t garnish your paycheck or bank account unless it knows where you work or has your bank account number.

As noted previously, paying the $250 “civil demand” to the store has no effect on the outcome of your criminal shoplifting case.

Shoplifters Can Sue Stores for False Imprisonment, Assault, and Battery

Security guards and other store personnel can legally use “reasonable force” necessary to detain a suspected shoplifter “in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time” while the merchant determines whether the person has stolen any items from the store and to allow time for the police to arrive.

However, if the detention is too long or the force used is unreasonable, the store risks being sued by the shoplifter for assault, battery, and false imprisonment.

If you have been charged with shoplifting, stealing, petty theft, or larceny in Missouri, call St. Louis shoplifting attorney Andrea Storey Rogers at (314) 724-5059 for a free consultation and get a price quote for legal representation.

Andrea Rogers
Andrea Rogers

With over 15 years of concentrated experience in Missouri traffic law and misdemeanors, Andrea Rogers of The Rogers Law Firm provides personalized, flat-fee legal services backed by a case outcome guarantee for every client she takes on across the state.