Juvenile Shoplifting Penalties

Learn how shoplifting charges are handled when the shoplifter is a minor.

By , J.D.
Updated by Rebecca Pirius, Attorney · Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Updated 11/04/2022

A juvenile who shoplifts commits the same offense as an adult who shoplifts. However, the juvenile won't end up in adult criminal court. Minors younger than 18 go through the juvenile justice system. Read on to learn how it works.

What Happens in Juvenile Court?

Every state has a juvenile court that hears matters involving offenses committed by minors younger than 18. (In some states, the age might be 17 or 19.) The juvenile system has its own courts, judges, prosecutors, and rules.

Because 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 lot of discretion when it comes to 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.

What Is Juvenile Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is a type of theft, also known as larceny. Some states make shoplifting a distinct crime or refer to it as retail theft.

Many states divide shoplifting or theft offenses into grand and petty theft. Grand theft is usually a felony-level offense and involves stealing merchandise valued over a certain amount. That amount could be $500, $950, $2,000, or another dollar figure depending on the state's laws. Petty theft refers to stealing merchandise worth less than that amount and is a misdemeanor-level offense.

Just like adults, juveniles face harsher penalties for felony charges versus misdemeanor charges. However, minors (for the most part) cannot serve time in an adult jail or prison. In most shoplifting cases, juveniles won't serve time in detention, but rather will face one or more of the penalties described below. (If detained, states place minors in juvenile detention centers, but detention is usually reserved for only the most serious cases.)

What Are the Penalties for Juvenile Shoplifting?

Penalties for juvenile shoplifting depend on state law and the circumstances of the case. A first-time offender who shoplifts a cheap T-shirt could be cited and released, whereas a frequent flyer of the juvenile system who steals several iPhones could face a number of penalties. Below are some examples of the penalties a juvenile shoplifter might face.

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.

Pay 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.

Pay Fines

The court can also order the minor to pay fines to the court. Typically, though, any money the minor can pay will go to restitution first, then fines.

Complete Community Service

A court might order the juvenile to complete community service hours as part of their disposition. Community service might involve talking to young kids about how it doesn't pay to steal, cleaning up the street in front of the store, or helping out a nonprofit that serves underprivileged youth.

Enter a Diversion Program

Diversion 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.

Attend 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.

Loss of Driving Privileges

Nothing hurts more than taking away a kid's driver's license. If the juvenile has a license, the court can usually suspend it. If the juvenile doesn't have a license, the court can suspend their eligibility.

Juvenile Probation

A court can also order probation for juveniles convicted of shoplifting. Probation is a likely outcome if the juvenile committed a felony-level offense. Juvenile probation often lasts about six months, though it may last longer depending on the circumstances. Probation terms require the juvenile to take specific actions, such as staying in school, obeying the reasonable orders of parents, guardians, and school officials, and regularly reporting to a probation officer during the probation period. If the juvenile doesn't comply, the court can impose a more significant penalty.

Confinement or Placement in Juvenile Detention

In serious, felony 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 another state facility that cares for children in need of protection.

Sealing Juvenile Records

Juveniles who have gone through a juvenile court proceeding should investigate to see whether they can seal their juvenile court record. Juvenile records are not always confidential, and they can follow a kid for a long time. For more information, check out "Expunging or Sealing a Juvenile Court Record."

Talk to a Lawyer

Juvenile 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 with experience handling juvenile delinquency cases.

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