Retail theft or shoplifting in Utah can be prosecuted at the felony or misdemeanor level, depending on the value of the merchandise involved and the prior criminal record of the defendant. If you are facing prosecution for shoplifting in Davis County, having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is vital. Utah criminal lawyer Stephen Howard has successfully defended clients in theft-related charges including aggravated robbery, burglary, theft, and shoplifting. We have helped clients in Davis County and throughout Utah. Contact us today to see how we can help you.
Penalties for Shoplifting in Davis County
Criminal prosecution for shoplifting charges in Davis County begins at the class B misdemeanor level, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and nearly $2,000 in fine and surcharge. Enhancements to a retail theft charge based on value or prior theft convictions can increase the severity of the charge to the second degree felony level, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and over $19,000 in fine, surcharge, and fees.
Elements of a Shoplifting Charge in Davis County
The Utah criminal code governing retail theft covers a variety of conduct. The most common shoplifting cases involve allegations that a person exercised control over merchandise displayed for sale in a retail establishment, without paying for the merchandise and with the intent to permanently deprive the store of the merchandise. Utah’s criminal code also supports retail theft charges for changing price tags, removing merchandise from its packaging, removing a shopping cart from store premises, and for “under-ringing” merchandise by a cashier.
There is a common misconception that a defendant must actually leave the store in order to be charged with shoplifting. But Utah’s retail theft statute focuses on the intent of the alleged shoplifter.
In theory, a person who simply picks up merchandise, looks at the merchandise, and forms the intent to steal it has committed the offense of retail theft – regardless of whether the person tries to leave the store. The statute does not require proof that the defendant removed the merchandise from the store – only that the defendant intended to deprive the merchant of the merchandise.
A person charged with shoplifting is presumed to be innocent. The prosecutor bears the burden of proving each element beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defendant has not actually removed the merchandise from the store, it can be more difficult for the prosecutor to convince a jury that the defendant had the intent commit a theft. But other evidence, such as concealing the merchandise in a pocket or bag, passing by all cashiers without attempting to pay, or running toward the store exit, may be persuasive to a jury.
What NOT to Do if Caught Shoplifting in Davis County
Consultation with an experienced criminal attorney can be vital to ensuring that your rights are protected and understanding the best options for defending your case. But even before you contact an attorney, there are certain things that are important to understand about a retail theft case, and things that you should NOT do.
First, if you are confronted by store security personnel, police, or anyone else who believes you are committing a retail theft, you should NOT struggle to get away or push someone out of the way. Using force, even minimal force, in the process of committing a theft or in fleeing or attempting to flee following the commission of a theft can turn what would otherwise be a misdemeanor shoplifting charge into a felony robbery case. If a weapon (even just a pocket knife) is used or threatened, or if someone is seriously injured in the process, the case may be filed as a first degree felony aggravated robbery punishable by up to life in prison.
Second, if you are stopped or detained on suspicion of committing a retail theft, you should NOT make any statements about your conduct. While Utah law requires you to give your true name to a police officer when asked under certain circumstances, the Fifth Amendment guarantees the privilege against self-incrimination. You are presumed innocent, and the burden of proving otherwise rests with the prosecutor. Any statements you make to the police, to store employees, or to anyone else can be used against you at trial. Even if you are trying to provide an innocent explanation for your actions, your statements could still be used to try to convict you.
Third, you should NOT enter a guilty plea at the arraignment hearing without first speaking with a criminal defense attorney. In a misdemeanor case, the first hearing you attend will usually be an arraignment hearing. At the arraignment, the court will give you formal notice of the charges filed against you, and will ask you to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. Entering a not guilty plea preserves a number of important constitutional rights, including your right to a trial, your right to have an attorney, your right to receive discovery, and more. If you enter a guilty plea at arraignment, you give up these rights and the only real question left for the court is what punishment to impose.