An experienced attorney can get your shoplifting ticket dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense such as “Littering” with no jail time required.
Most people who get a shoplifting ticket won’t have to appear in court if they hire an experienced attorney to represent them.
The outcome of your case depends on the answers to these questions:
- Which court is your case being prosecuted in? (In some counties in Missouri, the Prosecutor requires shoplifters to serve 2 days in jail.)
- How many times have you been arrested or charged with stealing in the past?
- How old are you?
- Did you try to run from the store’s security guard?
- What type of item did you steal?
- What was the value of the stolen items?
- How experienced is your attorney?
What Is Considered Misdemeanor Stealing In Missouri?
Stealing items valued under $500 is considered misdemeanor stealing in Missouri. If you took something from a store without paying for it, you could be charged with any of the following:
- Stealing Under $150
- Stealing Under $500
- Petty Theft
- Petty Larceny
You can be charged with stealing even if you don’t actually leave the store with the items you intended to take. Stores have cameras and security guards watching to see if you are concealing an item in your purse, in a stroller, or under your clothes.
How Serious Is A Shoplifting Ticket?
A minor shoplifting ticket may sound like it’s no big deal, but it is a criminal case. Any shoplifting conviction will stay on your criminal record forever, unless you get it expunged.
Jail time is a possibility for misdemeanor shoplifting of items valued at $150 to $500.
In some counties in Missouri, the Prosecutor requires all shoplifters to serve 2 days in jail.
What Is The Punishment For Shoplifting Under $500 In Missouri?
The maximum penalty for class A misdemeanor stealing (under $500) is:
- 1 year in jail
- $1,000 fine
- Conviction for stealing will show up on your permanent criminal record
What Is The Punishment For Shoplifting Under $150 In Missouri?
The maximum penalty for class D misdemeanor stealing under $150 in Missouri:
- No jail time (for first-time offenders)
- $500 fine
- Conviction for stealing will show up on your permanent criminal record
For more information, read my blog post, “How To Avoid Jail Time For Shoplifting.”
What Happens If You Plead Guilty To Shoplifting?
It is common for a police officer to tell a shoplifter that a shoplifting ticket is not a serious crime. The officer may advise the shoplifter to pay the fine so they won’t have to appear in court.
However, if you pay the fine, you are pleading guilty as charged and a conviction for stealing will show up on your permanent criminal record. That means every time a potential employer runs a criminal background check on you, they will see the conviction and probably won’t hire you.
Having a conviction for stealing can cause problems in the following situations:
- Applying for a job or internship
- Trying to rent an apartment
- Applying for a loan from a bank
- Obtaining federal financial aid for college
- Getting (and keeping) your federally subsidized housing.
Store Employees Can Legally Detain Shoplifters
Employees and security guards in Missouri stores can legally detain a suspected shoplifter while they determine if you stole from them. (If they detain you for too long, they risk being charged with false imprisonment.)
Some store managers don’t call the police, but will make a shoplifter sign an agreement to pay for the damages related to the shoplifting. This is called a civil demand.
You Don’t Have To Pay The Civil Demand Fine For Shoplifting
If you get caught stealing, the police officer may arrest you and take you to jail, or they may just give you a ticket for shoplifting and let you go.
If the police let you go (regardless of whether they give you a shoplifting ticket), you will most likely receive a “Civil Demand Letter” in the mail from the store’s attorney. The letter will say that you owe the store $250 to reimburse them for their expenses. Those expenses supposedly include re-stocking the item you stole or paying the salary for their security guards.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys usually advise their clients to not pay the civil demand fine.
For more information about what happens if you refuse to pay the civil demand fine, read my blog post, “How To Get Your Shoplifting Ticket Dismissed or Reduced to Littering.”
Stores Can Legally Sue Shoplifters In Civil Court
If a shoplifter refuses to pay the civil demand, the store can sue the shoplifter in civil court for a maximum of $250 to reimburse the store for their expenses related to the theft. The store can also demand that the shoplifter pay for the store’s attorney fees.
PLEASE NOTE: Stores send out civil demand letters that are worded in a way to make shoplifters think that they already owe the $250 to the store. However, you don’t owe anything to the store unless they sue you in civil court and win a judgment against you.
Stores almost never sue a shoplifter for misdemeanor stealing (under $500). The reason for this is that the cost to file the lawsuit, go to court, and try to collect on the judgment is much more than the $250 they could win.
Stores Can Ban Shoplifters From Entering Their Stores In The Future
In addition to the civil demand, many stores will also ban a shoplifter from ever entering their store again. Sometimes it’s just a 1-year ban from a particular store, but it could be a ban from all stores in that chain. For example, you might have been caught shoplifting at Walmart in one city, but the store’s manager can ban you from entering any Walmart in the United States. If you violate the ban, the store can have you arrested for trespassing.
What Can You Do If You Already Pleaded Guilty To Shoplifting?
If you pleaded guilty instead of hiring an attorney to get your shoplifting ticket reduced or dismissed, you may be able to change your mind and withdraw your guilty plea.
Your first step would be to hire an attorney to file a motion with the court to withdraw your guilty plea. The judge will decide whether to let you withdraw your plea. Then your attorney can negotiate with the Prosecutor to get your shoplifting charge dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense, such as “Littering.”
The judge will refuse to let you withdraw your plea if too much time has passed since you pleaded guilty, or if you had an attorney representing you when you pleaded guilty.
You should consult an experienced attorney to discuss your case and determine the likelihood of success before attempting to withdraw your plea.
A Shoplifting Conviction Can Be Expunged From Your Criminal Record
If it’s too late to withdraw your guilty plea and get your shoplifting ticket dismissed or reduced, you might be able to get the conviction expunged.
Missouri’s expungement law changed in 2019, so stealing convictions are now eligible to be expunged. You must have a clean criminal record for 3 years following the date when you pleaded guilty to shoplifting before you can file a petition for expungement.
To request expungement of a conviction, you or your attorney must file a petition with the court and appear before the judge at a hearing. The proper parties must be notified of the hearing so they have an opportunity to testify against you if they object to the expungement of your stealing conviction.
Here is a link to the expungement form you will have to file to petition the court for expungement of your conviction. Technically, you can file a petition for expungement yourself without an attorney. However, it’s a complicated process and you have a much better chance of success if you hire an attorney to handle it for you. You will have to pay a filing fee and send notification to all the proper parties, and if your petition fails, you will have to wait a year to re-file and pay the filing fee again.
How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Lawyer For Your Shoplifting Ticket?
You can consult a criminal defense attorney to get a flat-fee price quote for how much they will charge to represent you for your shoplifting ticket.
Most criminal defense attorneys offer a free consultation and can give you an estimate of what will happen with your case.
If you need help with your shoplifting ticket, contact St. Louis criminal defense attorney Andrea Storey Rogers at (314) 724-5059 or [email protected] for a free consultation.