Theft of Property: the truth on shoplifting

Theft of Property (ie “Shoplifiting”):  Some Issues to Keep in Mind


I defend many, many people accused of theft of property, what we casually call “shoplifting”.


I see some common themes in these cases that I will try to address here.


You are really gambling when you attempt to shoplift out of a big store.  Walmart, Target, HEB, and department stores all take loss prevention very seriously and spend a great deal of money on technology and staff to try to stop shoplifting.  They may not get you every single time but they might and if you make a habit out of it you will get caught. 


There are security cameras all over the big stores.  They may be being monitored from somewhere else in the store.  There are people in the aisles in plain clothes that work for the stores that are watching people.  Unfortunately, if you are a person of color they are probably watching you with more suspicion.  It is not fair, but you need to be aware of it. 


If they see you conceal items, they aren’t going to stop you at first.  You may get some confidence and feel like no one knows.  However, the reason they aren’t doing anything to you is because it is not illegal to conceal items in the store.  You haven’t broken the law yet so there’s no reason for them to stop you or get your attention.  It is not illegal until you walk past “all points of sale” and attempt to leave with the concealed items.  That’s when you’ve broken the law and if they know you have items that you have not payed for, loss prevention officers will make an attempt to detain you.


Yes, it is legal for them to detain you.  They can detain you to prevent the theft of items even if they aren’t peace officers.  Any private citizen can use force in Texas to stop a theft of property. They can use force to detain you.  Do not fight them.  Do not use force to try to get past them.  If you do, you can be charged with assault, or worse, robbery.  It’s not worth it.


They will detain you until the police arrive.  All the big chains always pursue charges against you for theft.  Some of the little ones may let you go if they recover the property but they don’t have to do so.  And yes, even if they get the property back you can still be charged with theft if you attempted to leave the store with the items. 


If the items are under $100 when they ring them up at the register, they will charge you with a Class C misdemeanor theft, write you a ticket with a court date – that you should not blow off – and let you go.  If it’s above $100 but below $500, it’s a Class B misdemeanor.  The police have the option of arresting you and taking you to jail, but the officer may also write you a Class B cite and release.  This is not a Class C ticket.  This is a citation to return to court to bond out on a personal bond on a Class B misdemeanor with a court date in County Court.  Do not blow this off or you will also be charged with a Class A misdemeanor of Failure to Appear/Bail Jumping.  If you get charged with both the theft and the FTA, when you get arrested you will have to bond out on both and it complicates the entire process and costs you more money. 


Shoplifting is a bad idea.  This is a crime of poverty but it’s not usual to see people stealing food and necessary items.  Sunglasses seem to be a very commonly shoplifted item, along with makeup, underwear, and other small items.  DVDs and small electronics are also common and can run in value up to a resulting Class A misdemeanor or state jail felony charge.


Be very careful:  a theft, even in the Class B range, with three or more convictions prior to the date of arrest can result in you being indicted on a state jail felony theft.  The punishment range on a state jail felony is six months up to two years in the state jail.


Call me today if you are charged with theft of property.