How To Avoid Jail Time For Shoplifting

If you get caught shoplifting items worth under $500 in Missouri, the potential punishment is 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine. If you hire an experienced attorney to represent you, it is very likely that your shoplifting charge will be dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense, such as “Littering.”

Will You Go to Jail For Shoplifting in Missouri?

As noted above, the judge has the power to send you to jail for up to 1 year for misdemeanor stealing (under $500). However, if you have no prior convictions for stealing, theft, petty larceny, or shoplifting and you have an attorney representing you, there is very little chance you will go to jail.

How Can an Attorney Help With Your Shoplifting Case?

In most Missouri municipal courts, an experienced attorney can negotiate a plea bargain deal with the Prosecuting Attorney so that a misdemeanor shoplifting charge is either:

  • Dismissed completely,
  • Reduced to a lesser offense, such as “Littering,” or
  • Dismissed after a period of probation

In a typical shoplifting case in a Missouri municipal court in which the defendant has hired an attorney to work out a deal with the Prosecutor, the defendant will very likely be required to do one or all of the following:

  • Pay a fine
  • Pay court costs
  • Complete the “Theft Offender” class
  • Do a few hours of community service
  • Serve a period of 1 to 2 years on probation

PLEASE NOTE:  In some courts in Missouri, the Prosecutor will not dismiss or reduce shoplifting charges, even if the defendant has no prior convictions.

How Much Are the Fines & Court Costs You Pay to the Court For a Shoplifting Case?

The amount of the fine you will pay for shoplifting could be anywhere from $100 to $500, depending on which court your case is in, your criminal history, and other details of your case. The amount of the court costs vary by court and can range from $25 to $65.

The “Theft Offender” class that the court will require a shoplifter to attend can be completed in one day and usually costs around $50 to $75.

The community service hours can usually be completed at any non-profit charitable organization, and the court usually gives defendants 2-3 months to complete the hours. The number of community service hours usually range from 10 to 25 hours, depending on the court and the details of your case.

Probation periods range from 6 months to 2 years, and can be either court-supervised or unsupervised “bench” probation.

How Much Does It Cost to Hire an Attorney For Your Shoplifting Case?

Most criminal defense attorneys charge a one-time flat-fee price to represent a defendant charged with misdemeanor (under $500) shoplifting, stealing, theft, or petty larceny. The amount the attorney charges depends on the following:

  • Which court is your case being prosecuted in? (Court name & address are listed on your ticket or summons.)
  • Do you have any prior convictions on your criminal record?
  • How old are you?
  • What did you steal?
  • What was the value of the items you stole?
  • Were the items you stole returned to the store undamaged?
  • Were you polite and respectful to the police officer?

What Will Happen If You Plead Guilty to Shoplifting With No Attorney Representing You?

Most attorneys advise defendants to not go to court without a lawyer or plead guilty to a charge of shoplifting, stealing, theft, or petty larceny in Missouri.

It will cost you less money up front if you plead guilty to shoplifting without having an attorney representing you. But in the long run it will cost you much more because having a shoplifting conviction on your permanent criminal record will prevent you from getting a job, renting an apartment, or obtaining a loan.


For more information about fighting a shoplifting/stealing charge in Missouri, read my previous blog post “What is the Punishment for Shoplifting/Stealing in Missouri?”

If you have been charged with shoplifting, stealing, petty larceny, or petty theft in Missouri, call St. Louis Shoplifting Lawyer Andrea Storey Rogers at (314) 724-5059 or email her at [email protected] for a price quote for legal representation.


What is the Penalty for Shoplifting in Missouri?

Stealing Under $150

Stealing (under $500) is a class A misdemeanor in Missouri, for which a judge can sentence you to up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

In addition to the criminal charges that you may face for stealing, Missouri law allows stores to sue shoplifters in civil court for restitution and damages. You will receive a “civil demand letter” in the mail from the store’s attorney claiming that you owe the store $250.

How Can an Attorney Help If You Are Charged With Stealing or Shoplifting?

In many cases, an attorney can get a misdemeanor shoplifting charge reduced to a lesser offense, such as “Littering,” if you have no prior convictions. Depending on the court in which you are prosecuted, it’s possible that all you will have to do is pay a fine and court costs, and you won’t have to appear in court.

Some courts are not so lenient with shoplifters. In those courts, the best option available to you will be an SIS (Suspended Imposition of Sentence) and probation. If you receive an SIS, no conviction will be entered on your permanent criminal record if you successfully complete your period of probation without any further convictions.

In addition, the court may require you to attend a “Theft Offenders” class and perform a few hours of community service. You may also be banned from entering all stores in the chain of stores that you stole from.

What Does the Judge Consider When Sentencing a Shoplifter in Missouri?

The sentence you receive for stealing in Missouri will depend on the following:

  • What did you steal? (For example, if you stole a bottle of alcohol, the court may order you to attend an alcohol education program. If you stole ingredients to make meth, then it’s a felony and you could be sentenced to two to seven years in prison.)
  • What was the price of the item that you stole?
  • Did you immediately return the undamaged item to the store?
  • Did you attempt to run away from the store’s security guard?
  • How old are you?
  • In which county is your case being prosecuted? (In some counties in Missouri, defendants who are not represented by an attorney, and who plead guilty to shoplifting, face a mandatory sentence of 2 days in jail.)
  • Do you have prior convictions for theft, stealing, shoplifting, or larceny?

Convictions for Stealing Stay on Your Criminal Record Forever

If you plead guilty to shoplifting, stealing, theft, or larceny, the conviction will remain on your criminal record forever, and you will not be able to get it expunged (removed). Having a conviction for stealing can prevent you from getting a job, renting an apartment, obtaining a loan, or being accepted into a college or graduate school.

Store Owners or Employees Can Detain a Suspected Shoplifter 

Missouri law also allows store owners or employees to detain a suspected shoplifter for a “reasonable” period of time, in a “reasonable manner” if the store employee has reasonable grounds or probable cause to believe that the person has stolen, or is in the process of stealing merchandise or cash from the store.

If the security guard detains a shoplifter for more than a reasonable period of time before calling the police or releasing the shoplifter, then the store is at risk of being charged with false imprisonment.

When the police officer issues a ticket for shoplifting, the charge can be described as any one of the following:

  • Shoplifting
  • Stealing
  • Stealing Under $500
  • Petty Larceny
  • Theft
  • Theft of Services

You will be given a court date, at which you can choose to appear on your own, or you can hire an attorney to represent you.

Statute of Limitations for Shoplifting in Missouri

The statute of limitations in Missouri for shoplifting is one year for a misdemeanor or three years for a felony. It’s considered a misdemeanor if the value of the item that was stolen is less than $500.

The time period begins when the offense occurs. This means the prosecuting attorney has one year from the date of the alleged shoplifting incident to file charges against a person for a misdemeanor shoplifting charge, or three years for a felony shoplifting charge.

What If the Store Doesn’t Press Criminal Charges?

In some cases, the store manager will not call the police or press criminal charges. Instead, the store will hire an attorney to send the accused shoplifter a “civil demand letter,” demanding that they pay an amount of $100 to $250 to reimburse the store for damages.

Keep in mind that the store can press criminal charges and also sue for civil damages.

Missouri Law Allows Stores to Sue Shoplifters  

It is legal for a store to send a civil demand letter to a shoplifter. Missouri (and every other state in the U.S.) has a law that allows retail stores to sue shoplifters to recover damages resulting from shoplifting.

If a store is successful in its lawsuit and wins a judgment against a shoplifter, the shoplifter can be forced to return the stolen merchandise or pay for the item that was stolen or damaged. This law also allows the store to recover an amount of $100 to $250 to reimburse the store for its expenses, such as the cost of hiring a security guard.

Instead of actually filing a civil lawsuit in court against the shoplifter, most stores usually hire a debt collection law firm to send a civil demand letter to the accused shoplifter and make repeated threatening phone calls.

Don’t Pay the “Civil Demand” for Shoplifting

If you have been accused of shoplifting and you receive a civil demand letter from a law firm demanding money, don’t pay it. Many accused shoplifters pay because they don’t know any better. Stores often engage in this type of behavior even if the item is recovered undamaged and they don’t press criminal charges against the shoplifter.

Stores Almost Never Sue Shoplifters 

If you refuse to pay in response to the civil demand letter, the store can sue you in court, and if they win a judgment against you, they can garnish your wages to force you to pay. But until the store sues you and wins, you don’t owe them anything.

The cost of hiring an attorney to sue a shoplifter far exceeds the amount of loss to the store. Therefore, it is extremely rare that a store will spend the money to hire an attorney to sue a shoplifter. Often, the item that was stolen is worth a very small amount (a $10 pair of sunglasses from Walmart, for example) and the shoplifter has already given the item back to the store, so the store’s damages are minimal.

Click on this link to read a recent Wall Street Journal article about how often stores send civil demand letters to shoplifters demanding money but rarely file a lawsuit against a shoplifter.

Paying the “Civil Demand” Has No Effect on the Criminal Case 

As discussed above, a merchant can press criminal charges against you for stealing and also file a civil lawsuit against you to make you reimburse them for their expenses.

Many people pay the civil demand, thinking that this will resolve their case, but it doesn’t. Whether you pay the civil demand or not will have no effect on your criminal case. The judge in the criminal case will not give you a better “deal” because you paid the civil demand, and you will still have to appear in court or hire an attorney to represent you. The amount of the fine that you will have to pay to the court will not be decreased by the amount of the civil demand that you already paid.

Don’t Return to Store After Shoplifting Conviction

After being convicted of shoplifting, the store that you stole from may prohibit you from returning to their store (or any other store in their entire chain of stores) in the future. You can be charged with trespassing if the store’s security guard catches you in any one of their stores after you have been banned from the premises.