Shoplifting Charges in Pennsylvania

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

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Shoplifting in Pennsylvania 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.

Pennsylvania Shoplifting

Shoplifting is referred to as retail theft in Pennsylvania law. Retail theft is committed when a person takes merchandise from a retail establishment without paying the full retail value, and with the intention of depriving the merchant. Removing or changing price tags and labels, transferring merchandise into new containers, causing a cash register to "under-ring" an item, and tampering with security devices, with the intention of depriving the merchant, also constitute retail theft.

Merchants who reasonably suspect an individual of shoplifting may detain the individual long to enough to determine if a theft has occurred and to contact law enforcement. Criminal and civil penalties for shoplifting are described below.

Pennsylvania Shoplifting Criminal Penalties

 Charge

Classification

Penalty

Theft of merchandise valued at less than $150 with no prior record of related charges

Summary offense under §3929(b)(1)(i)

Up to 90 days of jail time; fines up to $300

Theft of merchandise valued at less than $150 with one prior offense

Second degree misdemeanor under §3929(b)(1)(ii)

Up to two years of jail time; fines up to $5,000

Theft of merchandise valued at $150 or more with no more than one prior offense

First degree misdemeanor under §3929(b)(1)(iii)

Up to five years of jail time; fines up to $10,000

Theft of merchandise with two prior convictions, regardless of the retail value of the merchandise

Third degree felony under §3929(b)(1)(iv)

Up to seven years of jail time; fines up to $15,000

Theft of merchandise valued at more than $2,000, or theft of a firearm

Third degree felony under §3929(b)(1)(v)

Up to seven years of jail time; fines up to $15,000

Civil Liability

Merchants can sue adult shoplifters and the custodial parents of minor shoplifters in civil court to recover damages. Money damages can equal the value of merchandise if not returned in original condition, actual damages arising from the shoplifting incident, reasonable court costs and attorney fees, and/or a civil penalty equal to the value of the merchandise plus $150.

Diversion Programs and Plea Bargaining

Pennsylvania allows certain individuals accused of first-time and low-level crimes to avoid criminal prosecution through a type of pretrial diversion program called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD. The accused who are accepted into an ARD program can avoid a criminal conviction by completing the required elements of the program, which could include serving a probationary period and making restitution.

In cases where pretrial diversion is not an option, the accused may be able to arrange a plea bargain with the prosecutor assigned to the case. Prosecutors have the discretion to allow the accused to receive lesser charges or lighter sentencing in exchange for a guilty plea. Prosecutors may be likely to plea bargain in cases where evidentiary issues exist or where leniency seems appropriate.

Learn more about diversion and pretrial options.

Getting Legal Help

If you have been accused of shoplifting in Pennsylvania, you should contact an experienced criminal law attorney. Your lawyer can explain the options you may have, including pursuing diversion programs, raising defenses, or negotiating a plea bargain, in order to minimize the consequences of a shoplifting charge.

by: , Attorney

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