Arizona’s criminal shoplifting law is similar to those of many other states. Shoplifting is a type of theft crime which can result in a misdemeanor or felony conviction. The seriousness of the crime depends upon the value of the goods obtained and whether the item is a firearm.
If you are facing shoplifting charges, then you need to prepare a vigorous defense. Contact the Law Offices of Scott David Stewart to find out how our attorneys can help you fight the charges.
What Is Shoplifting?
When someone enters a retail store during business hours and knowingly obtains some item without paying for it, then that is shoplifting. A.R.S. § 25-1805. The merchant could be a convenience store, for example, or clothing boutique, big box store, or resale shoppe so long as it is a commercial business operation where merchandise is displayed and sold. With the exception of shoplifting a firearm, the nature of the item is less significant than its value.
Intent to deprive the merchant of its goods is an essential element of the shoplifting crime. There is no way to accidentally or unintentionally shoplift, as when someone is holding a six-pack, gets distracted talking to a neighbor and unthinkingly walks out the door without paying. (Turn around, go back into the store, and pay for the goods.)
If an intentional act, then any of the following could result in a shoplifting charge:
- Taking displayed goods without paying for them;
- Removing items from some other area of the establishment, such as the storeroom, without paying;
- Charging goods to a fake account;
- Charging goods to an existing account, but without the account-holder’s permission;
- Using some trick, or artifice, to obtain goods for less than the actual price;
- Altering price tags to get an item more cheaply;
- Slipping the item into a different container to get it free or at a reduced price; and
- Concealing goods so they can be sneaked out of the store.
If you or someone you care about has been charged with shoplifting, then immediately consult a criminal defense lawyer. A strong legal defense begins with the events immediately surrounding the arrest, long before any criminal trial commences.
Punishment When Convicted of Shoplifting in Arizona
Shoplifting is theft. The wrongful act involves stealing items of value from a store or other place of commerce. These acts range from swiping a $2 candy bar at a convenience store to stealing a firearm from a gun store. Changing price tags to obtain something for less is shoplifting, too.
Shoplifting carries a wide range of punishments intended to fit the severity of the illegal act. Some punishments match that associated with simple theft or larceny. In many instances, taking goods without paying happens accidentally, unintentionally, as when a shopper puts a case of soda in the bottom of the grocery cart and simply forgets to pay for it. If the shopper is stopped before leaving, he or she is usually directed back to the cashier to pay for the item. No hassle, no criminal charge. However, a shopper may be punished to the full extent of the law for the same mistake at a different store.
In Arizona, the shoplifting charge and associated punishment if convicted will depend upon the value of the items obtained in the theft. Take a closer look:
- Class 1 Misdemeanor: The value of the goods or property was less than $1,000. This may carry the least punishment, but sentencing is still severe. A conviction carries a maximum possible sentence of up to six months in jail, a $2,500 fine, and up to three years probation. A.R.S. § 13-707. (Did you violate probation?)
- Class 6 Felony: Two circumstances give rise to a class 6 felony theft for shoplifting. The goods were valued at $1,000 or more, but less than $2,000. Or the property taken was a firearm, even if the value was below $1,000. This conviction carries a possible jail sentence of six months to 18 months. The fine for a class 6 felony in Arizona could be as much as $150,000. A.R.S. § 13-801. Probation may be ordered for up to three years.
- Class 5 Felony: Three circumstances could lead to a class 5 felony charge. First, when the value of the goods obtained was $2,000 or more. Second, when a continuing criminal episode resulted in obtaining goods valued at $1,500 or more, during at least three separate events within a 90-day period. And third, when the shoplifter assisted a gang or syndicate. A.R.S. § 13-1805. This conviction carries a possible jail sentence of nine months to two years. The maximum allowable fine for a class 5 felony is $150,000. And probation may be ordered for up to three years.
- Class 4 Felony: There are two instances in which the defendant might be convicted of class 4 felony shoplifting. First, when the person used some “artifice, instrument, container, device or other article” to facilitate the shoplifting. A purse, backpack, or shopping bag could be a “container” under this provision. Second, when the person already has two prior offenses within the past five years for shoplifting or other theft crime (burglary, robbery, or organized retail theft). This is the most serious shoplifting felony. A conviction carries a possible jail sentence of 18 months to three years; a fine up to $150,000; and probation up to three years.
Be mindful that criminal penalties are subject to change. Always talk to your lawyer about the current status of the law and possible sentencing.
A misdemeanor or felony conviction could result in jail or prison, lengthy probation, community restitution, and hefty criminal fines. (The judge could order “public service” in addition to, or in lieu of, any shoplifting fines.) For more information about the punishment associated with theft convictions, visit our general discussion on theft crimes under Arizona law.
Civil Liability for Shoplifting in Arizona
Shoplifting in Arizona can be a double-edged sword. There is criminal liability for a misdemeanor or felony. And there is civil liability for the damages. Separate from the criminal case brought by the prosecutor, any adult who shoplifts can be sued in civil court by the merchant who was harmed by the unlawful act. Civil penalties include the retail value of the lifted items; and a minimum of $250, not to exceed $250 plus actual damages.
If the shoplifter is an emancipated minor, then the first penalty is an amount equal to the retail value of the lifted items; and a minimum of $100, not to exceed $100 plus actual damages, as the second penalty. A.R.S. § 12-691.
What Happens When the Shoplifter Is a Minor?
Minors sometimes view shoplifting as a rite of passage, a cheap thrill without consequences. Not so, especially for parents and legal guardians. The minor may not be held criminally responsible for shoplifting, but the merchant has the right to sue the parents or the legal guardian in civil court for recovery from the child’s malicious or wilful misconduct, up to $10,000 in damages (A.R.S. § 12-661). Furthermore, the merchant may sue the parents or legal guardian for a penalty equal to the retail value of the goods; and, additionally, sue for a minimum penalty of $100, but not more than $100 plus the actual damages. A.R.S. 12-692.
How Does a Merchant Know When to Detain Someone?
Arizona’s criminal shoplifting law states that a person is presumed to have knowingly obtained goods with the intent to deprive the owner of them if he or she:
- Hid merchandise that was not paid for on his or her person, or concealed items on another person. (For example, the defendant concealed merchandise in her child’s coat to avoid paying for it.)
- Uses some “artifice, instrument, container, device or other article to facilitate the shoplifting.” (For example, the defendant hid jewelry in a cereal box, intending to sneak jewelry of the store by paying only for the food.)
Were You Arrested for Shoplifting in Phoenix?
As you can see, shoplifting is no small matter. It is a serious theft crime with substantial penalties. Take action. Reach out to Scott David Stewart for help in obtaining the best possible outcome in your case. He is a former prosecutor and an experienced criminal trial lawyer. He carefully prepares a strategy for every phase of the criminal case. Through pre-charge investigation, arraignment, plea negotiation, trial, and sentencing if the charge is not dismissed or resolved by plea agreement. Trust him.