June 3, 2018
Shoplifting is a very common offense, but it is taken very seriously by the state of Texas – and by Texas retailers. More and more, retailers are taking aggressive actions to catch shoplifters, and they are increasingly likely to prosecute even minor incidents of shoplifting.
Fortunately, there are many ways to fight back against shoplifting charges.
What to Do if You are Accused of Shoplifting in Texas
If you are stopped by a loss prevention employee who suspects you of shoplifting, what you do next will determine how you spend the rest of your day – and potentially what long term consequences and theft charges you may face.
The following will maximize your chance of a favorable outcome:
- Do not run, as this will incite a negative reaction from store security.
- Do not overreact or make any sudden movements that could be misconstrued as a threat of bodily harm to store security. Also, keep your hands clear of your pockets and handbag, and avoid any sudden or jerking movements.
- Do not try to bargain with store security. They’ve heard it all before, and it won’t help.
- Make sure that a witness is present at all times.
- Do not sign anything at the store.
How Texas Attorneys Defend against Shoplifting Charges
Handling Civil Demand Letters
These letters are designed to be intimidating, but in most cases we advise that clients not adhere to the demands of the letters. This will not help your case in court or prevent charges from being pressed.
If you receive a civil demand letter, show it to your defense attorney, who can advise you of the best course of action.
Challenging the Evidence of Shoplifting
To successfully convict you of shoplifting, prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you:
- Were witnessed approaching the item while in the store.
- Physically handled the item.
- Carried the item away or attempted to conceal it.
- Were continuously seen by a staff member or other witness from the time you approached the item until you left the store without paying for it.
- Did not pay for the item.
- Were approached by security outside of the store, not while still inside.
A good Texas defense attorney will look at each of these elements and find ways to call them into question. This may lead to an acquittal, or to charges being reduced or dropped.
Shoplifting includes two elements: (i) You intentionally concealed or possessed merchandise offered for sale; and (ii) You intended to permanently deprive the retailer of the merchandise without paying for the item(s).
For both of these factors, your intent is central. Depending on the circumstances of your alleged shoplifting offense, a defense attorney may be able to establish reasonable doubt of your intent, arguing that your intention may not have been to shoplift. For example, you may have accidentally forgotten to pay and tried to return the item when you realized your mistake.
Plea Bargaining and Diversion Programs
In some shoplifting cases, engaging in plea bargaining or seeking out diversion programs may be the most effective approach, especially if you are a first-time offender and the items in question are of a low monetary value.
Frequently, store surveillance footage or other evidence from when you were detained provides incredibly strong evidence that shoplifting occurred, and potentially even that you intended to shoplift. In these cases, taking steps to have the charges reduced by prosecution or potentially by convincing the retailer not to prosecute may lead to the best possible outcome.
Shoplifting is strongly linked to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders. The act of shoplifting produces a “rush” of dopamine that temporarily makes people happier. If you have a history of mental illness or have seen a mental health provider for any reason, inform your defense attorney, as this may be used in your defense. Arguing that you were compelled to commit this act and could not help yourself may be helpful in plea bargaining.
Pretrial diversion programs may also be an option if you are first-time offender. These programs are designed to rehabilitate offenders, preventing them from committing future offenses. If you are selected for diversion and complete the program’s requirements, criminal charges are dropped.
About the Author:
Jeff Hampton has been practicing law in Texas in 2005, first in the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor, and now as a private attorney with the Hampton Eppes Law Group, protecting the rights of Texans who have suffered injury due to negligence or are facing criminal charges. His success in helping people with their legal troubles has been recognized by clients and peers alike, with a Top Attorney designation and 10/10 Superb Rating on Avvo, and a place on the National Trial Lawyers list of the Top 100 Trial Lawyers.