When a person under the age of 18 commits a crime, that person is
usually not dealt with in the criminal justice system, but rather
through the juvenile justice system. The juvenile system has its own
courts, judges, prosecutors, and rules. However, the crime of
shoplifting is the same for juveniles as it is for adults. The only
difference is how a juvenile court handles the case.
is a type of theft, also known as larceny. Many states divide theft into
grand and petty theft (the latter involves stealing something worth
less than a specified amount, typically $500 or less). Some states also
make shoplifting a distinct crime -- it is petty theft from a retail
For more information on shoplifting and petty
theft, including state-specific articles on how each state defines and
punishes adults for these crimes, start here: Petty Theft and Shoplifting Laws.
the law does not consider juveniles to have the same ability to make
choices as adults, the penalties for juvenile shoplifting are intended
to teach and correct rather than punish. Juvenile courts have a very
wide latitude in determining the type of penalty that is appropriate in
each case. For this reason, juvenile shoplifting penalties can be very
different from case to case.
- Release to Parents.
In minor, first-time cases of shoplifting, a juvenile court may choose
to do nothing more than release the juvenile to a parent or guardian's
care. In these situations, the court will often give the juvenile a
lecture or stern warning about shoplifting and the trouble that can come
with further violations.
- Restitution. A
court can order a juvenile to pay restitution to the property owner for
the value of the shoplifted property. If the juvenile has a job, the
court may order the juvenile to continue employment until the
restitution is paid. If the juvenile is old enough to work but doesn't
have a job, the court may order that the juvenile find employment and
work to pay off the restitution money.
- Probation. A
court can also order probation for juveniles convicted of shoplifting.
Juvenile probation often lasts about 6 months, though it may last longer
depending on the circumstances. Probation terms require the juvenile to
take specific actions, such as to stay in school, obey the reasonable
orders of parents, guardians, and school officials, and regularly report
to a probation officer during the probation period. If the juvenile
doesn't comply, the court can impose a more significant penalty.
A deferment is similar to probation, though it is less formal. Through a
diversion program, a prosecutor agrees to allow a juvenile to enter
into a diversion program that has similar terms to probation. The
juvenile may, for example, have to participate in an education program,
perform community service, maintain a specific grade-point average, or
meet other requirements. Diversion programs are typically only available
to first-time offenders and allow them a chance to avoid a more formal
juvenile court proceeding.
- Counseling. A court
can order counseling where appropriate. Juvenile counseling may be
provided through state services, or the court may order the parents or
guardians to find an appropriate individual or family counselor.
- Confinement or placement.
In serious shoplifting cases, or where the juvenile is a repeat
offender, the court may order a juvenile to a juvenile detention
facility, weekend detention program, or boot-camp style program. If the
court finds that the juvenile's home environment is dangerous or
contributing to the juvenile's delinquency, it can also order the
juvenile into a foster home or other state facility that cares for
neglected or needy children.
Juveniles who have gone through
a juvenile court proceeding should investigate to see whether they can
seal their juvenile court record. For information on how to do that, see
"Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record," which has links to articles for each state, explaining the process.
Talk to a Lawyer
shoplifting is not an insignificant charge. Any shoplifting conviction
could have a serious impact on the life of a juvenile, as well as the
juvenile's family. Whether you have been charged with juvenile
shoplifting or you are a parent or guardian of a juvenile who has, you
need to talk to a local criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. A
local attorney who has experience dealing with juvenile court judges and
prosecutors is the only person who can give you legal advice about your