Shoplifting Charges in Montana

Learn about the laws, penalties and civil consequences of a shoplifting charge in Montana. Find out if you can avoid a conviction and criminal record.

Shoplifting in Montana is a crime with serious penalties, including potential fines and jail time. In addition to facing criminal penalties, shoplifters can be sued by merchants in civil court to recover damages.

Montana Shoplifting Laws

Shoplifting is punished as theft in Montana (Montana Code 45-6-301). Theft is broadly defined, and can committed when a person purposefully or knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over property of the owner, or obtains control by deception. This could include situations such as taking property from a store without paying, or altering price tags in order to pay less than the purchase price.

Merchants can detain individuals they have reason to believe are shoplifting, in a reasonable manner, for a reasonable period of time. Criminal penalties, including jail time and fines, and civil penalties are described below.

Montana Shoplifting Criminal Penalties




Theft of goods valued below $1,500 with no more than one prior offense

Theft under 45-6-301(8)(a)

Jail time up to 6 months and/or a fine up to $1,500

Theft of goods valued at below $1,500 with two or more prior offenses

Theft under 45-6-301(8)(a)

Jail time between 30 days and 6 months and/or a fine up to $1,500

Theft of goods exceeding $1,500 or theft of anhydrous ammonia to use in the production of drugs

Theft under 45-6-301(8)(b)(i)

Jail time of up to 10 years and/or a fine up to $50,000

Civil Liability

Merchants are legally entitled to sue adult shoplifters, emancipated minor shoplifters, or the parents or custodial guardians of non-emancipated minor shoplifters for damages. Adult and emancipated minor shoplifters are liable for a penalty equal to the greater of $100 or the retail value of the stolen goods, up to $1,000, plus actual damages. Parents and custodial guardians are liable for the greater of $100 or the retail value of the stolen goods, up to $1,000.

Pretrial Diversion Programs and Plea Bargains

Pretrial diversion programs and deferred prosecution agreements may be available to those accused of first-time and low-level crimes in Montana. If an accused completes the requirements of a diversion program, such as making restitution and participating in counseling or community service, the criminal charges will be dropped.

If a diversion program is not an option, the accused may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor. Plea bargains generally involve receiving a reduced charge or lighter sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. Plea bargains are available at the discretion of the prosecutor.

Learn more about diversion and pretrial options.

Getting Help

It is a good idea to consult with a lawyer as soon as you are charged with shoplifting. Your attorney can help you to explore your options, such as pursuing diversion programs, raising defenses, or negotiating a plea bargain, in order to achieve the best possible outcome in your case.

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