Understanding Retail Theft Penalties In Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, retail theft can broadly be divided into two categories: Retail theft by taking, and retail theft by fraud. While the penalties are the same for each, the proof required for each can be very different.

Retail theft by taking occurs when a person carries away, transfers, or causes to be carried away merchandise, with the intent to deprive the merchant of its value. This is self-explanatory: it involves taking merchandise from a store without paying for it. It is important to note that a person does not necessarily have to attempt to leave the store to be prosecuted for retail theft. If it can be proven that the merchandise was taken anywhere (even to another part of the store) with the intent to take it without paying, that can be a retail theft. In fact, the law allows a presumption that a person who conceals merchandise on or about their person does so with the intent to steal the merchandise, regardless of whether that person ever tries to leave the store.

Retail theft by fraud is defined by the law in many different ways. Basically, it involves doing anything to deceive the store into charging less for merchandise than its actual retail value. Some examples include: switching or altering price labels; switching or transferring the packaging or container of a product; “under-ringing” by doing something to cause the merchandise to ring up for less than its retail value; or removing security tags or anti-theft devices. For most of the above, it will likely not be a defense that the merchandise was actually scanned and paid for, if it can be proven that some fraud allowed a person to pay less than full value. It is important to note that many of the above examples might actually also violate other potentially more serious Pennsylvania criminal laws, such as Theft by Deception.

How Do Retail Theft Penalties In Pennsylvania Differ From Other States

In Pennsylvania, the criminal penalties for retail theft depend upon the value of the merchandise involved and the individual’s prior record. However, it is important to note that all Pennsylvania retail theft convictions will appear on a person’s record as a criminal conviction for theft.

It is not uncommon for our clients tell us that they received a citation for summary retail theft, and were told by someone (often law enforcement) to “just pay the fine and it that will be the end of it.” This cannot be further from the truth. If you are charged with retail theft in Pennsylvania, you will be required by law to be fingerprinted. This will create an entry in Pennsylvania’s criminal history database.

A conviction, even if by mail for a citation carrying a small fine, can haunt your future. Do not ever enter or sign a guilty plea for this offense without first speaking with an attorney.

Because retail theft laws can differ from state to state, it’s very important to seek advice from an experienced attorney who understands Pennsyvalnia’s unique retail theft laws and who can guide you in the right direction.

Pennsylvania Shoplifting Laws

If a person charged has no prior retail theft offenses, and the value of the merchandise is less than $150, retail theft is a summary offense. This carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.

If the person charged has one prior retail theft offense and the value of the merchandise is less than $150, retail theft is a misdemeanor of the 2nd degree. This carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

If the person charged has one prior retail theft offense and the value of the merchandise is greater than $150, retail theft is a misdemeanor of the 1st degree. This carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

If the person charged has two or more prior retail theft offenses, the value of the merchandise is $1000 or more, or if the merchandise is a firearm or motor vehicle, retail theft is a felony of the 3rd degree. This carries a maximum penalty of 7 years in jail and a $15,000 fine.

Civil Penalties and Store Demand Letters In Pennsylvania

In addition to the above penalties, a person convicted of retail theft may also be ordered to pay restitution for any lost merchandise. This would occur if and only if that person is actually convicted of the offense in a criminal court.

However, Pennsylvania law also allows a retailer to file a civil suit seeking damages and restitution, separate and apart from any criminal charge. Many people charged with retail theft may receive a letter from an attorney representing a store, demanding payment of this civil penalty, along with civil restitution. Many people who are scared of potential criminal penalties will respond to this letter by paying the demand. If you receive a civil demand letter, do not respond or make any payments without first speaking to an attorney.

Paying a civil demand does not resolve your criminal charge, does not satisfy your criminal penalties, and could be construed as an admission to a related retail theft charge. You cannot be required to pay this civil penalty unless the retailer files a separate civil suit against you, which is very rare.

Contact Colgan & Associates To Be Your Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

If you or someone you know has been charged with retail theft, it is important to not do anything until speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Depending on the circumstances, the potential penalties can range in seriousness from a small fine to years in prison. However, regardless of the initial penalty, a record of conviction for even the most minor retail theft can have a devastating impact on a person’s future.

There are defenses to retail theft. Mistakes happen, and it can be easy to leave a store while forgetting to pay for an item. Misidentification is common, particularly if a person is accused based on grainy store video or simply matching a suspect description. False accusations can occur, for example when store security finds items missing in a later inventory and points to mere suspicion that a person was previously near that merchandise. You are not guilty unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, and it is important to consult an attorney as to your rights.

There also may be other alternatives. Pennsylvania has several options for alternative disposition of minor offenses, including some options that may result in the ultimate dismissal of your charge. If handled correctly, some retail theft offenses can be resolved with little to no impact on your criminal history. Even if you did what you have been accused of, there may be other options to resolve your case and preserve your future. Your attorney will review those options with you.

For a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your matter, contact Colgan & Associates today. We will work hard to fully understand your unique situation and offer you sound advice to reach a favorable outcome. Call us at (717) 790-2048.

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