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What counts as shoplifting?

On Behalf of | Oct 20, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Shoplifting has seen a noticeable increase in recent times and has even spiked during the post-pandemic. According to the National Retail Federation, shoplifting has cost the retail industry about $100 billion in 2022.

While the difficult economic situation might motivate some to steal merchandise, shoplifting is a crime in Pennsylvania. But which acts count as shoplifting?

Shoplifting, as described by law

According to Pennsylvania law, a person is guilty of retail theft if they commit any of the following:

  • Item theft: Taking possession of or carrying away any merchandise from a store, intending to deprive the merchant of the item without paying its full retail value.
  • Price tag alteration: Altering, transferring, or removing any label or price tag in an attempt to purchase merchandise for less than its full retail value.
  • Container transferring: Transferring any merchandise from the container displayed in the store to another, intending to deprive the merchant.
  • Under-ringing: Managing to make a register under-ring or display a lower price value for an item.
  • Deactivating security measures: Destroying, removing or deactivating any inventory control tag or security strip on merchandise.

The law also states that if store personnel or security find a person concealing unpurchased merchandise, either on the premises of a store or outside, the fact may be used as evidence in court that the person intends to commit shoplifting.

The penalties for shoplifting

A conviction for retail theft can lead to penalties based on the amount of merchandise stolen and the number of prior convictions the person has:

  • Value of merchandise less than $150, first offense: The person faces a summary offense, which leads to up to 90 days in jail and as much as $300 in fines.
  • Value of merchandise less than $150, second offense: This offense is a misdemeanor of the second degree. A conviction leads to up to two years in prison and as much as $5,000 in fines.
  • Value of merchandise is more than $150, first or second offense: This is a misdemeanor of the first degree, which carries up to five years imprisonment and as much as $10,000 in fines on conviction.
  • Third or subsequent offense, any value: The offense becomes a felony of the third degree. The convicted faces up to seven years in prison and $15,000 in fines.
  • Value of merchandise exceeds $1,000 or the merchandise is a firearm or motor vehicle: Even for a first offense, the crime is immediately prosecuted as a felony of the third degree.

State law also notes that the amounts involved in separate retail theft cases may be aggregated to determine the offense grade an accused person faces.

Pennsylvania’s rules against shoplifting have a very broad definition for retail theft. Even concealing merchandise could get someone in trouble with the law. Those who face charges should carefully consider their legal options since a conviction can lead to fines and jail time that outweigh the costs of the stolen merchandise.