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Caught Shoplifting: A Lawyer's Guide

Updated on August 1, 2012

Help! I was Arrested for Shoplifting in New York!

In New York and many other states, the word 'larceny' is synonymous with Theft or Stealing. Therefore, if you have received a New York Petit Larceny summons (in New York under CPL 155.25) or New York Criminal Possession of Stolen Property ticket (CPL 165.40), it means that the state or jurisdiction you live in is alleging that you have stolen something. A shoplifting offense is charged as a larceny crime. In most states, the degree with which you are charged depends on an estimate of the value of the property you are alleged to have stolen.

If you made a mistake, don't be too hard on yourself. A competent criminal lawyer can try to fix the problem so that you wind up with the minimum penalty possible. Everyone makes mistakes, does things they regret, and our court system in the United States is set up to ensure that most people get a second chance.

And of course, if you aren't guilty, then it is important for the courts to hear your side of the story and make sure they are getting their facts straight. It can be extremely frustrating to be accused of something you didn't do, but the New York criminal justice system and those of other states can often make you feel like you've been sucked into a black hole. Sometimes you have to fight just to defend yourself against bogus charges.

The worst thing you can do is compound the problem by trying to go it alone. Chances are, that you've already confessed to the crime and have signed a statement to that effect AND a letter of restitution agreeing to pay the store far in excess the value of the item you may have shoplifted. That means you've already made several mistakes that have cost you a substantial amount of money. Don't make another one by trying to save a few dollars. Shoplifting is a serious crime -- one that can prevent you from obtaining future employment and going to college.

Whatever happened, you deserve fair treatment by the courts. Hiring a good criminal attorney will ensure that you receive a fair hearing, and an opportunity to resolve the charges as quickly as possible.

Shoplifting: New York Punishment Table

Value of Stolen Property
Criminal Code Violation
Maximum Jail
Permanent Criminal Record?
Under $1,000
155.25, 165.40
One Year
$1,001 - $3,000
155.30, 165.45
Four Years
Over $3,000
155.35, 165.50
Seven Years

You should always be aware of the charges pending against you and speak with a criminal defense lawyer before pleading guilty to ANY crime.

How to Beat a Shoplifting Charge

There are several ways to successfully fight and challenge a petit larceny or shoplifting arrest.

  • For shoplifting cases, a criminal lawyer may be able to dispute intent to shoplift, if it was inadvertent (accidental), and you meant to pay for the item. For example, let's say a mother is with her young daughter waiting on line to pay for a candy bar when her daughter suddenly runs out of the store. If the mother instinctively runs after her child and inadvertently forgets to drop the candy bar before leaving the store, a lawyer would argue that she did not have the intent to commit the crime of shoplifting.
  • In some petit larceny and shoplifting cases, a criminal lawyer can argue that it was a case of mistaken identity (that someone wearing similar clothes or of a similar race or ethnicity was the shoplifter and not you) and make the prosecutor prove that it was you. If you were caught by a security guard, that security guard must be willing and able to come to court to testify against you. In many cases, witnesses are inaccurate, unreliable or simply unwilling to take the time to cooperate with the police.
  • For first-time offenders charged with shoplifting in New York and many other states, there are special education programs that Courts may require shoplifters to attend as part of your sentence or punishment. In many cases, you may be able to participate in a program and get your charges reduced or dismissed.
  • In most cases, the best option for your lawyer is to negotiate hard for either an ACD (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal) or a fair plea bargain in which the charges are dismissed in exchange for a reduction in charges down to a less serious penalty or in some cases, restitution (paying back the business owner).
  • Unfortunately, you may not be treated fairly without the representation of a criminal lawyer who is willing to take a case to trial if necessary.
  • The most important thing is this: NEVER plead guilty to any shoplifting or larceny charge without speaking with a qualified, experienced criminal defense lawyer. A defense lawyer who has represented people charged with larceny or shoplifting in New York courts will know exactly what a fair deal is and will be able to guide you accordingly.

About the Author

Criminal Defense Lawyer Jason Stern has been practicing criminal law in New York for more than 15 years. He has appeared on Good Morning America, Fox News, CNN, Headline News, ABC, and been featured or quoted in the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Bottom Line Magazine, Men's Vogue, and countless other publications.

If you have been arrested for a shoplifting charge (petit larceny) in New York, you should visit his criminal defense website Petit Larceny Defense.

And yes, he will be happy to provide a FREE consultation and fee quote for your New York shoplifting case.

New York Criminal Court Locations and Directions

346 Broadway - Manhattan Criminal Court - Summons & DAT:
346 Broadway, New York, NY 10013, USA

get directions

346 Broadway is the main Criminal Court for Violations and Minor Misdemeanors in Manhattan charged via summons or desk appearance tickets (DAT)

314 West 54th - Manhattan Midtown Community Court:
314 W 54th St, Manhattan, NY 10019, USA

get directions

314 W. 54th is a satellite criminal court in Manhattan handling violations and minor misdemeanors issued via summons or desk appearance tickets.

125-01 Queens Blvd - Queens Summons & DAT:
125-01 Queens Blvd, Jamaica, NY 11415, USA

get directions

125-01 Queens Blvd is the main court in Queens handling violations and minor misdemeanors issued via summons or desk appearance tickets.

88 Visitation Place - Red Hook Community Justice Center:
88 Visitation Pl, Brooklyn, NY 11231, USA

get directions

88 Visitation Place is a satellite criminal court in Brooklyn handling violations and minor misdemeanors issued via summons or desk appearance ticket.

120 Schermerhorn - Brooklyn Criminal Court:
120 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201, USA

get directions

120 Schermerhorn is the primary criminal court in Brooklyn handling violations and minor misdemeanors issued via summons or desk appearance tickets.

215 East 161st - Bronx Criminal Court:
215 E 161st St, Bronx, NY 10451, USA

get directions

215 E. 161st is the main criminal court in the Bronx handling violations and minor misdemeanors issued via summons or desk appearance tickets.


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