Most shoplifting offenders are caught while in the act of shoplifting, usually when they are apprehended by store security. If you are accused of shoplifting, you may be alarmed and tempted to try to resist the efforts of store security or law enforcement, or to flee the scene.
Unfortunately, fighting back at the scene or attempting to escape when you’re accused of shoplifting are both very dangerous decisions. Doing this will increase the severity of your charges, and may even endanger your physical wellbeing.
Case-in-point: a Colorado Springs shoplifting suspect was recently shot and killed by a police officer after running at officers while carrying a pellet gun that appeared to be a firearm.
Steven James Young fled from a Walmart after an officer attempted to apprehend him for suspected shoplifting, and hid in a nearby neighborhood. When police found Young hiding in the bushes near a home, he jumped out from behind the bushes carrying an air pistol and ran towards officers, ignoring their commands to get on the ground. He was then fatally shot.
Although this is an extreme case, it can be considered a cautionary tale. If you are apprehended for suspected shoplifting, knowing what to do and what to avoid ahead of time can mean the difference between an acquittal and a conviction — or worse.
What to Avoid if Accused of Shoplifting
If you are confronted by store security for suspected shoplifting, you will likely be alarmed and taken aback, so may instinctively fight back by resisting officers or attempting to escape. However, staying calm and cooperative during the incident — while also being aware of your rights – will maximize your chance of a favorable outcome.
Resisting or Arguing
If you are apprehended by store security, do not attempt to resist the officer(s) or argue, as this can lead to additional or more severe charges. It also implies the intent to shoplift, which may make defending your case more difficult if it goes to trial. Remain calm and cooperative, and allow yourself to be detained without argument. Remember – this is not the time to fight back.
Attempting to Flee
Attempting to flee can backfire in several ways. Usually shoplifters are detained after they pass through the point-of-sale terminal, and this may be all that is needed to secure a conviction.
However, leaving the store entirely, especially if you are actively being pursued by store security, significantly increases your chances of a conviction. Leaving the store may also lead to a chase by local law enforcement officers, and the use of force that could result in physical injury – or worse, as in the case described above.
Threatening with Weapons
If you are caught shoplifting with a weapon on your person, you already face additional charges, since this is considered to be an aggravating factor. If you are not licensed to carry the weapon, you will also face separate weapons charges.
However, threatening store security or law enforcement with a weapon will likely increase your charges to armed robbery, and if you discharge your weapon you could face charges of attempted murder, assault of an officer with a deadly weapon, or aggravated discharge of a weapon.
Low-value shoplifting is generally a misdemeanor-level offense, and many options such as pretrial diversion may even help you to avoid a conviction and criminal record. However, involving a weapon in any way will result in life-changing, felony-level offenses, particularly if you attempt to use the weapon or threaten anyone with it.
Also, as mentioned above, threatening with or discharging deadly weapons also authorizes officers to use deadly force, so you are placing your life in danger by doing so.
Making Statements to Store Security
Being apprehended for shoplifting is likely to take anyone aback, and store security guards can also be very intimidating. They may make you feel as though you’ll be locked up forever if you don’t confess immediately to shoplifting, or alternatively may give you the impression that they won’t contact the police if you simply confess.
Do not allow yourself to be coerced by store security guards into a confession. In almost every case, they will call the police and they will press charges. Making any admissions to security guards or signing any statements will only hurt your case. Wait until you have spoken to an attorney before making a statement of any kind.
How to Fight Back against Shoplifting Charges
If you or a loved one are accused of shoplifting, the best way to fight back is after the fact through legal
means. Retaining the best available Denver criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible will help ensure that your rights are protected, and maximize your chances of a favorable outcome.
If you are a first-time offender, ask your attorney about options such as pretrial diversion programs, which if completed successfully, will get your case dropped before it goes to trial.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.