Shoplifting – What To Do If You Get Caught Stealing

shoplifting ticket

If you get caught stealing, you can hire an attorney to represent you in court and get your shoplifting ticket dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense, such as “Littering,” which won’t show up on a standard criminal background check.

Why You Should Not Plead Guilty To Stealing

Many of my clients tell me that when they got caught stealing, the police officer issued a ticket and told them to just pay the fine for their shoplifting ticket because it’s not a serious offense. That is wrong information.

If you get caught stealing and you plead guilty, you will have a permanent conviction on your criminal record that won’t go away.

Having a conviction for stealing will prevent you from getting a job or internship, renting an apartment, getting a bank loan to buy a house, or obtaining federal financial aid for college. A shoplifting conviction can also cause you to lose your government subsidized housing.

A Conviction For Stealing Can Be Expunged

Recently the law has changed and now a conviction for stealing can be expunged. So, if you pleaded guilty to stealing or shoplifting and you have had a clean criminal record for the past 3 years, you can hire an attorney to expunge your stealing or shoplifting conviction.

To expunge a conviction for stealing, a hearing before a judge is required. The victim, the prosecutor, and the police officer who issued the ticket will all be notified of the hearing and can testify at the hearing if they object to your petition to expunge your stealing conviction.

In my opinion, your best choice is to hire an attorney up front to get your shoplifting ticket dismissed or reduced to “Littering,” instead of pleading guilty and then waiting 3 years to expunge it.

You Can Withdraw Your Guilty Plea For A Shoplifting or Stealing Ticket

If you recently pleaded guilty to shoplifting or stealing, you can change your mind and withdraw your guilty plea.

You will need an attorney to represent you to withdraw your plea.

Withdrawing your guilty plea is a good option if you recently pleaded guilty and don’t want to wait 3 years to have your conviction expunged.

The decision to let you withdraw your plea is totally up to the judge. An experienced attorney can advise you regarding how likely it is that the judge in your case will let you withdraw your plea.

Can An Attorney Get Your Shoplifting Ticket Dismissed?

An experienced criminal defense attorney can get your Shoplifting charge dismissed completely or reduced to a less serious offense, such as “Littering.”

The outcome of your case depends on many things, such as:

  • Which court is your case being prosecuted in? (The name of the court is listed at the top of your ticket)
  • How old are you? (Courts are more lenient with young first-time offenders)
  • Do you have any prior arrests, charges, or convictions on your criminal record?
  • Were you polite and respectful to the police officer who issued the ticket?
  • What did you steal? (Stealing a bottle of alcohol may be treated differently than stealing baby formula)
  • What was the price of the item you stole?

Punishment For Shoplifting Under $500 in Missouri

Maximum penalties for class A misdemeanor Stealing (Under $500) is:

  • 1 year in jail
  • $1,000 fine
  • Conviction for Stealing on your permanent criminal record

No Jail Time For Shoplifting Under $150

Stealing Under $150 is a class D misdemeanor if you have no prior convictions.

The maximum penalty for class D misdemeanor Stealing Under $150 is:

  • No Jail Time (for first-time offenders)
  • $500 fine
  • Conviction for Stealing on your permanent criminal record

You can read my previous blog post, “How To Avoid Jail Time For Shoplifting” for more information.

How Long Does a Conviction For Stealing or Shoplifting Stay On Your Criminal Record?

A conviction for stealing or shoplifting stays on your criminal record forever unless you get it expunged, dismissed, or amended to a lesser offense such as “Littering.”

What Is Considered Misdemeanor “Stealing”?

You will have a conviction for misdemeanor Stealing on your permanent criminal record if you got caught stealing and pleaded guilty to any of the following:

  • Stealing Under $150
  • Stealing Under $500
  • Shoplifting
  • Petty Theft
  • Petty Larceny

How Much Do Attorneys Charge To Represent You For Your Stealing/Shoplifting Ticket?

An experienced shoplifting attorney can give you a flat-fee price quote for how much they will charge to represent you. They will also give you an estimate of the outcome of your case.

Most criminal defense attorneys offer a free consultation, so it won’t cost you anything to call an attorney and find out if they can help you with your case.

Try to find an attorney who has experience handling shoplifting cases in the court where your case is being prosecuted.

In most misdemeanor shoplifting cases that I handle, my clients never have to appear in court.

What Is A Shoplifting Civil Demand Fine?

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.

Then you will get a “Civil Demand Letter” in the mail from the store’s attorney, stating that you owe the store $250 to reimburse them for their expenses related to your shoplifting.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys advise their clients to refuse to pay the Civil Demand Fine.

It is legal for the store to sue a shoplifter in civil court for a maximum of $250 to reimburse the store for their expenses related to the theft. However, you don’t owe the store anything unless they successfully sue you in civil court and win a judgment against you.

For a misdemeanor (under $500) stealing charge, it would be very unusual for a store to sue a shoplifter. That’s because the cost to file the lawsuit is much more than the $250 they would get if they win a judgment against you.

For more information about what happens if you don’t pay the $250 Civil Demand Fine, read my previous blog post, “How To Get Your Shoplifting Ticket Dismissed or Reduced to Littering.”

Is It Legal For a Store Employee To Detain a Shoplifter?

It is legal in Missouri for a store employee to detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable amount of time while they call the police and try to determine if you stole from them. However, the store risks being charged with false imprisonment if the detention period lasts too long.

If you have been charged with stealing in Missouri, contact St. Louis criminal defense attorney Andrea Storey Rogers at (314) 724-5059 or [email protected] for a free consultation about your case.

Missouri’s New Expungement Law Allows Many Misdemeanor & Felony Criminal Records To Be Sealed

Missed Court Date

Missouri’s new expungement law lets people seal many of their misdemeanor and felony criminal records, which means they will be closed to the public but still available to some “entitled” entities.

What Employers See On Your Criminal Background Report

Many people have a hard time getting a job because of their criminal history. If you have been arrested or convicted of a crime, or if you are currently on probation or parole, you should assume that information will show up on a criminal background check run by a potential employer.

You can read my previous blog post for more information about what shows up on your criminal background report.

Most employers who run a criminal background check on you will not see your closed records. However, some employers are “entitled entities,” which means they are allowed to see both open and closed records.

So, if you are applying for a job to work in a daycare, nursing home, hospital, bank, police department, etc., the employer will see your entire criminal history. (Scroll down for more information about who can see your closed or expunged criminal records.)

How To Expunge Arrests & Convictions From Your Criminal Record Under Missouri’s New Expungement Law

You can file a petition for expungement yourself, but you will have a much better chance of success if you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to file the petition and appear in court with you for the expungement hearing.

Here is the Missouri Supreme Court’s form you can use to file a petition for expungement if you don’t want to hire an attorney to do it for you.

The court charges a $350 fee to file for expungement and, if you are unsuccessful in your first attempt, you will have to wait 1 year before re-filing.

How Long Do You Have To Wait Until You Can Expunge Your Old Criminal Records?

Before you can file a petition for expungement, you must have a clean record with no pending charges for 3 years (for misdemeanors) or 7 years (for felonies) after completing probation and all other court-ordered requirements. Under the old expungement law, the waiting period was 10 years for misdemeanors and 20 years for felonies.

Among other things, you must 1) file your petition in the court where you were charged, 2) submit proof of fingerprinting, and 3) name all entities in the petition that you believe possess the records that you are trying to expunge.

After you pay the $350 fee and file the petition for expungement, the Prosecuting Attorney has 30 days to object, after which the court must hold a hearing within 60 days. If the Prosecutor does not object, the court “may” hold a hearing.

Victims of your crimes can testify at your hearing on the petition for expungement. The judge can deny your request for expungement based on the victim’s testimony alone.

On a positive note, the new expungement law creates a rebuttable presumption that a petition for expungement should be granted if you meet all the criteria.

Who Can See Your Expunged Criminal Convictions?

If the judge grants your request for expungement of an old arrest or conviction, the records will be closed to the public, but they will not be destroyed.

Prosecuting attorneys and judges will be able to see that you had a prior arrest or criminal conviction, even if you are successful in getting those records expunged.

So, for example, if you are convicted of marijuana possession and you get that conviction expunged, but then you get caught with marijuana a second time, the Prosecuting Attorney will see that you have a prior conviction and may not be as lenient in offering a plea bargain deal as they would if you were a first-time offender.

In addition, law enforcement officials can see your prior criminal convictions (even if you got them expunged) and can refuse to grant a permit to purchase or possess a gun based on those closed records.

Here are a few examples of who is entitled to see your closed records, even if you had them expunged from your criminal record:

  • Criminal Justice Agencies (Courts/Prosecuting Attorneys/Judges)
  • Law Enforcement (Police Officers)
  • Emergency Services Providers
  • Private Security Companies
  • Daycare Facilities
  • Nursing Homes
  • In-Home Healthcare Agencies
  • Banks/Credit Unions/Savings Institutions
  • Insurance Companies
  • Gaming Commissions and State-Operated Lotteries
  • The Missouri Department of Revenue
  • Any entity that is required by federal or state law to exclude applicants with certain types of convictions

If a company or entity is one of the types listed above, they will be able to see your entire criminal history and can refuse to hire you because of your expunged criminal records.

Your expunged criminal records can also be grounds for denying a professional license, certificate, or permit issued by the state of Missouri to practice your profession.

See RSMO 610.120 for more information about who can see your closed criminal records.

What Is NOT ELIGIBLE For Expungement Under Missouri’s New Expungement Law?

You can consult a criminal defense attorney or read Missouri’s new expungement law RSMO 610.140 to determine if your criminal records are eligible for expungement.

Here are some examples of crimes that CAN NOT be expunged under Missouri’s new expungement law:

  • Drug Trafficking (1st degree and 2nd degree)
  • Stealing
  • Dangerous & Violent Felonies
  • Sexual Offenses
  • Domestic Assault
  • Forgery
  • Identity Theft
  • Hate Crimes
  • Unlawful Use of a Weapon
  • 1st Degree Burglary
  • 2nd Degree Robbery
  • 1st Degree Property Damage
  • Fraudulent Use Of a Debit/Credit Device
  • Motor Vehicle Violations (If You Have A Commercial Driver’s License)

What IS ELIGIBLE For Expungement Under Missouri’s New Expungement Law?

Most misdemeanors and non-class A felonies are eligible for expungement under Missouri’s new expungement law, subject to a long list of exceptions found in RSMO 610.140.2

Some examples of crimes that CAN be expunged under Missouri’s new expungement law:

  • Marijuana Possession
  • Drug Paraphernalia Possession
  • Passing a Bad Check

How Many Expungements Are Allowed?

Under Missouri’s new expungement law, you may file only 1 petition per circuit court.

There is a lifetime limit of 1 felony and 2 misdemeanors that you can get expunged.

St. Louis criminal defense attorney Andrea Storey Rogers is the owner of The Rogers Law Firm. For a free consultation about your case, contact Andrea at (314) 724-5059 or [email protected]


Image Credit:  Brian Turner (Flickr: My Trusty Gavel) [CC BY 2.0]