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Defenses to Shoplifting Charges in Pennsylvania

July 30, 2020

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

As Pennsylvania begins to reopen after the coronavirus shut most businesses down, it means there is once again plenty of opportunity for crime and shoplifting. Recently, the police have asked for the public’s help in identifying a suspect that is suspected of retail theft after he visited a computer store. The man was wearing a mask at the time, as per Governor Tom Wolf’s order, so there is an even greater chance that someone may be mistakenly identified as the man in question.

This is an important factor in the case, as it showcases just how many others may be mistakenly identified until the pandemic is under better control. Also, while mistaken identity is one defense to retail theft in Pennsylvania, there are several others it is important to understand, as well.

Penalties for Retail Theft in Pennsylvania

Many people think retail theft is a very minor crime, but the law enforcement of Pennsylvania takes it very seriously. The penalties a person will face depends on whether the person has been convicted of a prior offense, and the value of the goods stolen. Possible penalties for retail theft include:

  • Goods valued at less than $150: Individuals accused of stealing merchandise valued at less than $150 will be charged with a summary offense. The penalty for those convicted is up to two years in jail and a maximum fine of $300. Convicted individuals that have a prior offense on their record will be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor and face a penalty of a maximum two years in jail and a fine up to $5,000.
  • Goods valued at more than $150: Individuals accused of stealing goods worth more than $150 will face a first-degree misdemeanor charge if they do not have more than one prior offense. The penalties for those convicted include a maximum of five years in jail and a maximum fine of $10,000.

Anyone convicted of retail theft who has two or more previous convictions will face penalties for a third-degree felony. The consequences include up to seven years in jail and a maximum fine of $15,000. Due to these serious consequences, it is imperative that anyone charged with this offense speaks to a criminal defense lawyer.

Defenses to Retail Theft

Historically, the most common defense for retail theft was that the accused lacked the criminal intent to steal property. For example, a person may accidentally place something into their pocket and leave a store without paying for it. If the prosecution cannot prove criminal intent by showing that the subject fled the store or through other evidence, it can provide a valid defense.

As may be seen more often in the coming months, mistaken identity can also provide a valid defense to retail theft charges. Things happen very quickly in a store and the memory of the staff members and other customers may not accurately remember the sequence of events, or which person took which actions.

Lastly, mistake of fact is also sometimes a valid defense. Mistake of fact means that the accused person made a mistake or misunderstood the situation and that led to them committing a crime unintentionally. For example, while paying for an item a customer may place their own belonging, such as sunglasses, on the counter. If there are other sunglasses on the counter, the customer may mistakenly pick up the store’s sunglasses instead of their own and leave the store.

Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Lawyers can Help You Beat the Charges

If you have been accused of retail theft, it is important to know that there are serious penalties for those convicted. It is equally important to understand that there are defenses to this offense, and our Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers know how to use them. At van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim, we will advise on the best defenses for your case to give you the best chance of beating the charges. Contact us online or call us today at (215) 486-0123 to arrange a free consultation.



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