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Parents: What to do if your child is caught shoplifting

Shoplifting offenses are often thought of as juvenile pranks, but these theft crimes can have some serious consequences for the person charged. Theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude and can affect a teenagers ability to get into college, find a job, obtain credit or rent an apartment. Here is some advice to help if your child gets caught shoplifting.


Do contact a board certified juvenile law attorney as soon as possible

Shoplifting (theft) charges can have serious consequences, even when the item stolen has a small value amount. Often a person accused of a low value theft will opt to pay a small fine or get credit for jail time served to satisfy the “punishment” requirement of their case. This results in a permanent criminal conviction on the person’s record. This is a big mistake because theft offenses are often graduated offenses, which means that prior criminal convictions are used to increase the punishment level of any future theft offenses. It is important to contact an attorney who is certified in juvenile law to ensure that the theft charge is either dismissed or deferred to avoid a criminal conviction on the person’s record.

Do be proactive in entering programs that can reduce or possibly eliminate the theft offense

It is almost a guarantee that a juvenile who is caught shoplifting will have, as a condition of any deferred or probated sentence, the requirement to complete a theft intervention class and to complete a certain amount of community service hours (24-80) as part of his or her punishment. The completion of these requirements up front can often lead to either a shorter period of probation or in some cases the elimination of the criminal charge all together.

Do stress the serious consequences of being charged and/or convicted of a theft offense

Theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude. This means that it is considered a crime which is contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals. A theft charge and/or conviction can keep a person from obtaining admission into a college or trade school, receiving job opportunities in certain fields, renting or purchasing a home, reduce a person’s credit score, eliminate the person’s ability to serve on a jury, and possibly take away a person’s right to vote. It is important to speak with your child about the seriousness of stealing so that they realize the type of trouble they can potentially get into.

Do follow up on removing criminal records

Contrary to popular belief, criminal arrest records are not automatically eliminated because an offense was dismissed, deferred, or a finding of not guilty was obtained. Unless a person affirmatively files a petition to expunge his or her criminal records, the records of the arrest will permanently stay as part of a person’s criminal history. Make sure to follow up on removing any criminal arrest records for cases which have been, deferred, dismissed or have resulted in a not guilty finding.

Do educate your child about the consequences of assaulting security personnel

It is important to educate your child about the consequences of assaulting security personnel who are attempting to stop them in the commission of a shoplifting offense. On many occasions, a person who is caught shoplifting gets charged for what I refer to as “Aggravated Shoplifting.” This occurs when a person who is caught shoplifting fights with the security personnel who is trying to prevent the theft. If the security personnel is injured, a simple misdemeanor theft case turns into a felony robbery charge. And, if by chance, the security personnel is over the age of 65, the offense becomes a robbery on the elderly and will invoke a greater punishment possibility.


Do not accept a plea bargain agreement because it is the easiest thing to do

Plea bargains that involve credit for time served in jail time or a fine will result in a permanent criminal conviction for the theft offense. As stated before, these are crimes of moral turpitude and will never be eliminated from a person’s criminal record. In fact, criminal convictions can be used to enhance any future criminal charges, including offenses which are not theft related.

Do not treat this offense lightly

In the past small shoplifting cases were often treated with a “slap of the wrist”, not anymore. Stores lose millions of dollars each year to shoplifting offenses and most stores will prosecute an offender to the full extent of the law. This can include a civil judgment for damages. Most civil damage judgments will consist of a “fee” of between $250 to $400 and may include attorney fees for the collection of the debt. These fees are in addition to any criminal penalties.

Do not let your child get involved with other juveniles who commit shoplifting offenses

Educate your child about the term “Law of Parties.” This area of law often comes up in shoplifting cases. If a person helps the shoplifter by soliciting, encouraging, directing, aiding, or attempting to aid the shoplifter in the commission of theft, that person will be charged with a theft offense as well. This occurs even if the person who aided the shoplifter didn’t receive any benefit from the theft.

Do not forget to have all eligible criminal records expunged or sealed when applicable

Criminal records are not automatically sealed or eliminated after a certain amount of time has passed. A person must affirmatively seek to have his or her criminal arrest records removed or sealed, otherwise the records will be a permanent part of the person’s criminal history. This is true even when a case is dismissed or a person has been found not guilty by a judge or jury.

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Shoplifting cases have serious consequences that can affect a person throughout his or her life. It is important that these cases result in an outcome that does not involve a criminal conviction. And it is equally as important to make sure that criminal arrest records are eliminated once they are eligible for an expunction or seal.

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Brian J WillettJuvenile Defense Attorney

I am a graduate of the University of Iowa and Memphis State University School of Law. I received my undergraduate degree in Biology/Education and served as a teaching and research assistant while attending the University of Iowa. At Memphis Stat...

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