In the state of Rhode Island, shoplifting is considered misdemeanor theft (sometimes known as larceny) when the value of the stolen property is less than $500. If the value of the property or services is greater than $500, then it is considered felony theft. The majority of shoplifting first offenses are misdemeanor crimes and are punishable by a fine not less than $50, or double the retail value of the merchandise, whichever is greater, not to exceed $500, and/or jail time of up to one year. Like other crimes, shoplifting carries enhanced penalties, including felony charges, for repeat and habitiual offenders or offenders who use devices designed or adapted to facilitiate shoplifting.
Merchants are particularly eager to prosecute, and take shoplifting incidents very seriously. If you are accused of shoplifting, even if it is your first offense, it’s important to take the following steps to protect yourself from harsh penalties and large fines:
1. Dealing with security officials: Typically shoplifters are caught and initially detained by a retailer’s security officials who often wait until the suspect exits the store before approaching. Do not flee. Fleeing may imply guilt, and will not be helpful for your case down the line. Be cooperative, but do not make a statement.
2. Dealing with arresting officers: While it may be tempting when the arresting officer arrives, do not insist innocence, or try to explain the situation away. This could lead to unintentional condemnation. Remain calm, and quiet, and wait for legal counsel.
3. Hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer: Hiring expereinced legal counsel and following his/her advice is crucial to avoiding harsh penalties and fines. A good criminal defense lawyer may be able to get the charges dismissed or reduced.
4. Be sure to appear at all court dates on time: This goes without saying, and certainly any good criminal defense attorney would advise full cooperation with all court dates. A little cooperation goes a long way in the judicial system!