What is shoplifting in Arizona and how do I fight shoplifting charges?

by | Jun 27, 2015 | Articles

If you’ve been charged with shoplifting in Arizona, it’s important to have good counsel by your side and it also helps to be equipped with knowledge. First, I’ll explain the elements of an Arizona shoplifting charge. Second, I’ll discuss the potential consequences and defenses to shoplifting.

Can I be convicted of shoplifting? What does the government have to prove?

Arizona law (ARS §13-1805) lists the elements the government has to prove to convict someone of shoplifting. The government has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. To do so, the government must meet each element of an offense. If just one element is missing, the evidence isn’t sufficient. In this case, there are five different ways to prove a shoplifting case in Arizona.

In all cases, the government must prove that you: 1) Went to a place that offered goods for sale; and 2) Knowingly took those goods with the intent to deprive the person of those goods by:

  1. Removing the goods without paying;
  2. Charging the price of the goods to a fake person or a real person without permission;
  3. Paying less than the purchase price by changing, removing or substituting the price tag;
  4. Transferring the goods from one container to another; or
  5. Concealing the goods.

Shoplifting can be either a felony or a misdemeanor in Arizona depending on the circumstances of the shoplifting.

How can I be charged with felony shoplifting? When is shoplifting a felony?

Shoplifting is a class 4 felony if:

  • You used an artifice, instrument, container, device or other article with intent to facilitate the shoplift
  • You have two prior shoplifting, robbery, theft, or burglary priors within the last 5 years
  • You committed an organized retail theft (it’s actually a different offense but very similar so I included it here for reference)

Shoplifting is a class 5 felony if:

  • You shoplifted over $2,000 worth of goods
  • You shoplifted in furtherance of gang activity
  • You shoplifted 3 times in 90 days and the total value of the goods was $1,500 or more

Shoplifting is a class 6 felony if:

  • You shoplifted over $1,000 worth of goods but it was less than $2,000
  • You shoplifted a firearm, regardless of value

All other shoplifts are misdemeanors.

What are some of the potential penalties if convicted of shoplifting in Arizona?

Misdemeanor Shoplifting Penalties:
The minimum sentence is the conviction on your record and nothing more (known in legal jargon as a terminal disposition). The maximum penalty for a class 1 misdemeanor is 6 months jail and a $2,500 fine plus surcharge (currently 83%). The most common sentence for a first time offender is a fine and counseling. Repeat offenses usually include some type of jail sentence on top of that.

If the value of the goods was minor and you have no prior criminal history, you may be eligible for diversion. Diversion allows your charges to be dismissed upon successful completion of classes, fines or community service. The terms of diversion or whether you’re even eligible are in the prosecutor’s discretion. Some courts do not offer diversion but most do. Whether you’re a candidate will depend on different factors. Even if offered diversion, hiring counsel is a good idea because there are collateral consequences that should be considered and navigated.

Felony Shoplifting Penalties:
If convicted of a felony in Arizona, the minimum sentence is probation if it’s your first felony offense. As a term of probation, the court can impose up to 12 months in jail.

The court can also sentence a person to prison. If you have a prior felony conviction, you’re not eligible for probation and face a different sentencing table. The following tables lay out the minimum and maximum prison sentences:

Class 4 felony

First Offense. Probation Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
1 yr. 1.5 yrs. 2.5 yrs. 3 yrs. 3.75 yrs.
Category Two Offense. Probation not Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
2.25 yrs. 3 yrs. 4.5 yrs. 6 yrs. 7.5 yrs.
Category Three Offense. Probation not Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
6 yrs. 8 yrs. 10 yrs. 12 yrs. 15 yrs.

Class 5 felony

First Offense. Probation Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
.5 yr. .75 yr. 1.5 yrs. 2 yrs. 2.5 yrs.
Category Two Offense. Probation not Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
.1 yr. 1.5 yrs. 2.25 yrs. 3 yrs. 3.75 yrs.
Category Three Offense. Probation not Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
3 yrs. 4 yrs. 5 yrs. 6 yrs. 7.5 yrs.

Class 6 felony

First Offense. Probation Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
.33 yr. .5 yr. 1 yr. 1.5 yrs. 2 yrs.
Category Two Offense. Probation not Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
.75 yr. 1 yr. 1.75 yrs. 2.25 yrs. 2.75 yrs.
Category Three Offense. Probation not Available.
Mit. Min P Max Agg
2.25 yrs. 3 yrs. 3.75 yrs. 4.5 yrs. 5.75 yrs.

What are some other consequences of being convicted of shoplifting?

Shoplifting can have immigration and employment consequences. Also, the store can sue you pursuant to ARS §12-691 for civil damages.

What are some of the defenses to shoplifting in Arizona? How do I beat shoplifting charges?

A good defense is all that stands between guilt or innocence. Because creativity and innovation are limitless, it’s impossible to list every defense. Keen legal strategy is an art that’s built on experience and hard work. Nevertheless, here are the main defenses to shoplifting:

1. No intent to shoplift. This is the most common defense. We’ve all been there. We’re busy, distracted by kids, or just have a lot on our minds so we accidentally walk out of the store without paying. This isn’t a crime. It’s an accident. But it’s surprising how many overzealous store security officers will treat you like a criminal and push you through a horrible criminal justice system for an accident. A good attorney will investigate all the reports, surveillance videos, witnesses and other evidence to prove that it was an accident.

Here, evidence of good character and ability to pay for the goods is important to prove it was an accident and nothing more. The government often utilizes the statutory presumption that if the items were concealed, you intended to take the goods illegally. But this presumption can be rebutted. Many overwhelmed people place items into a bag with full intent to pay and forget that it’s there. If that’s happened to you before, don’t do it again because it creates a nasty presumption in a case that the government will use against you.

Another type of accident is that you were not the one that switched the tags on the merchandise. A prospective shoplifter will change the tags but later change his or her mind and walk out; leaving you the scapegoat for what you thought was just a bargain. It can even be less sinister than that. Perhaps a store employee placed the incorrect tag and now you’re the one they blamed. A simple mistake can turn into a total nightmare. A good attorney can flesh those overlooked circumstances out.

2. Constitutional violations. Did police read you your Miranda rights? Did the store security officer bully you into a false confession or make false statements about your case? A skilled attorney will look for these violations through careful study of the police reports and interviews with the witnesses. Any improper search or confession that violates the law can be thrown out.

3. Value of the goods. Perhaps you made a mistake and did shoplift the goods but the government inflates the value so that you’re now facing a higher penalty than what the law provides. A good attorney can attack the values and possibly limit your exposure.

If you’ve been charged with shoplifting in Arizona, we can help you.

If you’ve been charged with shoplifting in Arizona, hire good legal counsel that deals with these types of cases. We can help you. We’ve helped many prior past clients with this offense, both in and out of trial. Give us a call today. There’s still hope and you can fight this. Mark Heath is a Mesa criminal defense attorney and serves the surrounding Phoenix metro area. He’ll take on cases throughout Arizona.

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