Retail Theft / Shoplifting

In Florida, any shoplifting charge, no matter how low the amount of money the item costs, can result in jail time and a loss of your driver’s license. You can be charged even if you never left the store with the merchandise.

Store employees are permitted to detain you if they suspect you of shoplifting.  It is also possible that you can face threats of a lawsuit and demands to pay money to a law firm or collection agency, even if you do not get convicted of or even charged with shoplifting.

Attorneys for “Shoplifting Crimes” in West Palm Beach, FL

Florida shoplifting accusations can result in harsh criminal and civil penalties. If you were arrested for retail theft in Florida, it is in your best interest to immediately seek legal representation.

The Palm Beach shoplifting attorneys at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. aggressively defend clients in such communities as West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach, Wellington, Palm Beach Gardens, Lake Worth, and Riviera Beach. Call (561) 557-8686 today to schedule a completely free initial consultation that will let our firm review your case.

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Shoplifting and Retail Theft in Palm Beach County Defined

If you are accused of shoplifting, you will likely be charged with theft under Fla. Stat. § 812.014, which generally covers anyone who knowingly obtains or uses, or attempts to obtain or to use, the property of another, including retail merchandise that one has not paid for, with intent to either temporarily or permanently deprive another of ownership rights or other benefits. Since the law includes the phrase “attempts to obtain or use,” you can be charged with theft even if you have not yet left the store or passed the checkout counter.

This includes obtaining property by lies, fraud, or trickery; for example if you switch price tags or place an expensive item in a box for a cheaper item before heading to the cashier.

Fla. Stat. § 812.015(3)(a) permits retail merchants and their employees to detain people if they have probable cause to believe that you are shoplifting. However, they must immediately call the police to the scene after doing this.

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Penalties for Shoplifting and Retail Theft in Florida

Shoplifting Lawyer

Most shoplifting involves items that cost under $100. This will result in a second-degree misdemeanor charge for theft, commonly called petit theft, and a conviction will lead to up to:

  • 60 days in jail; and/or
  • $500 fine.

If the item or items has a total value of at least $100 but under $300, this will result in a first-degree misdemeanor charge. If you have a prior theft conviction, you will also be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, even if the item is very low in value. In either case, a conviction can result in up to:

  • One year in jail; and/or
  • $1,000 fine.

Shoplifting items valued at $300 or more will lead to felony charges, with the possibility of spending years in state prison if convicted. You can be charged with a third-degree felony if you are accused of:

  • Using or bringing into a store a device designed to defeat security tags and similar measures;
  • Coordinating or working with other people to shoplift more than $300 worth of items;
  • Shoplifting more than $300 worth of items within a 48 hour period;
  • Putting an item or items in different boxes in order to shoplift more than $300 worth of items; or
  • Shoplifting an item or items valued at over $300 but less than $20,000.

If convicted of a third-degree felony, you face up to:

  • 5 years in prison; and/or
  • $5,000 fine.

You can be charged with a second-degree felony if you:

  • Have a previous third degree felony conviction for shoplifting and commit the offense again;
  • Coordinate with other people to shoplift more than $3,000 worth of items; or
  • Shoplift an item or items valued at $20,000 or more, but less than $100,000.

If convicted of a second-degree felony after being accused of shoplifting, you face up to:

  • 15 years in prison; and/or
  • $10,000 fine.

Regardless of the value of the item or items shoplifted, you may also lose your driver’s license or be prohibited from obtaining one for six months after a first conviction or a year after subsequent convictions. If your license is already suspended or you are otherwise ineligible for a driver’s license, the time period starts at the point when you would otherwise become eligible for a license.

Additionally, a conviction of shoplifting or another form of retail theft will be considered a “crime of dishonesty or untruthfulness.” This will show up on background checks run by employers and others, and can have a very negative effect on your future employment opportunities.

A shoplifting conviction, even if it comes at a young age, can prevent you from seeking a career in:

  • Teaching;
  • Accounting;
  • Retail;
  • Contracting;
  • Banking;
  • Real estate;
  • Law; or
  • Medicine.

Thus, if you are a young person charged with shoplifting or another form of retail theft, doing everything you can to fight a conviction is likely a good idea, even if you are assured you will only receive community service or a fine and may be tempted to accept a conviction and move on with your life.

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Civil Lawsuits and Demand Letters

Many retailers have established a practice of collecting personal information from anyone accused of shoplifting, then turning this over to a collection agency. The collection agency, which usually operates under the name of a “law firm,” will then send form letters threatening to sue you if you do not pay them, and often follows this up with phone calls demanding you pay them money.

While the law firms or collection agencies sending the letters may not actually end up filing a lawsuit against you, the letters and phone calls can still be distressing. This can happen even if you have never been convicted of shoplifting or gave the item back to the store.

Usually, the amount demanded by the collection agency is far more than the value of the item allegedly shoplifted. For example, a 14-year-old boy who attempted to shoplift an $11 pair of sunglasses while visiting Florida received a letter demanding payment of $475, even though he had given back the sunglasses and performed community service.

In another case, a Florida man with an $8 package of drill bits in his pocket was accused by Home Depot of shoplifting. He produced a receipt, and prosecutors dropped the charges. However, the collection agency already had his information, and eventually demanded over $6,000 from him. With the help of a Florida attorney, he filed a lawsuit against Home Depot and forced them to settle in his favor.

If you are receiving threatening, annoying or harassing letters or phone calls demanding money after a shoplifting accusation, an experienced Palm Beach County shoplifting lawyer can help you fight back against the law firm or collection agency demanding money from you.

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Finding a Retail Theft Lawyer in Palm Beach County, FL

If you have been arrested for retail theft of any amount in Florida, you should take the charges seriously. Meltzer & Bell, P.A. represents clients all over Palm Beach County, including Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Greenacres, Royal Palm Beach, and West Palm Beach.

Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell have over 20 years of combined legal experience. You can receive a free, confidential consultation that will allow our Palm Beach County retail theft attorneys to review your case by calling (561) 557-8686 right now.

This article was last updated on Friday, November 11, 2016. 

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