Introduction to Shoplifting Laws in Arizona

introduction to shoplifting laws in arizonaIn Arizona, shoplifting is a broad term which encompasses a range of crimes.  It is formally defined as either removing merchandise from a store without paying, altering price tags, removing price tags, concealing items, or moving items from their original container.  Like most states, Arizona shoplifting law is strict and harsh to dissuade potential theft.  However, the punishments for shoplifting vary drastically depending on who is stealing, the worth of the items stolen, and the intent of the thief.  This article will discuss the various degrees of shoplifting, as well as some possible defenses if you are charged with a shoplifting offense.

Penalties:

Class 1 misdemeanor-  If you are caught shoplifting property valued at less than 1000 dollars, you will be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Although a Class 1 misdemeanor is certainly less serious than a felony charge, Class 1 means that it is the most serious misdemeanor charge.  It carries with it a possible six months in jail, 2500 dollars in fines, and three years of probation.

Class 6 felony-  If you are caught shoplifting property valued between 1000 and 2000 dollars, you will be charged with a Class 6 felony.  A Class 6 felony is the least serious form of felony charge, but still presents hefty punishments.  A Class 6 felony charge carries with it a sentencing range of six months to one and a half years, up to 150,000 dollars in fines, and three years of probation.

If you are caught shoplifting a firearm, as long as its value is less than 2000 dollars, you will also be charged with a Class 6 felony.  However, the punishments for this crime will be far greater if the firearm is at any point used or threatened to be used.

Class 5 felony-  To be charged with a Class 5 shoplifting felony, there are a few possible scenarios.  The first is in the same vein as the other Classes of shoplifting offense: if you are caught shoplifting property valued at more than 2000 dollars.  The second is if you are caught shoplifting during any ongoing criminal episode.  This essentially means that you were taking advantage of an  outside criminal situation which limits the attention or stopping power of the store’s employees.  Lastly, shoplifting to assist or promote a criminal gang or syndicate will land you a Class 5 felony charge.  A Class 5 felony charge carries with it a minimum jail sentence of nine months and a maximum of two years.  Just like the prior classes, the fines could total up to 150,000 dollars and probation could last up to three years.

Class 4 felony-  Using an instrument or device to steal property will land you a Class 4 felony.  The specifics of this charge are fairly ambiguous, since the term “instrument” is so vague.  Practically, this charge will be issued if the shoplifter uses a container to either make the transport or concealment of property easier.  Using a container significantly limits an employee’s ability to prevent theft, and also implies that the shoplifter had premeditated the act.  Because shoplifting falls under the moniker of “petty theft,” shoplifters will often steal on impulse; perhaps it is because the shoplifter has a stealing problem- commonly referred to as kleptomania- or because what they are stealing is cheap, but often the decision to steal will be made on the spot, and not before entering the store.  Just like the difference between first and third degree murder, the presence of premeditation naturally implies greater malice, and is thus punished accordingly.  A Class 4 felony carries with it a minimum jail sentence of one and a half years and a maximum sentence of three years, along with the same 150,000 dollars in fines and three years of probation.  Additionally, any shoplifter who had been previously convicted within the last five years will also receive a Class 4 felony charge, regardless of the object’s value.  Click here for the Arizona Revised Statute on shoplifting.

Theft:

theft and shoplifting laws in arizonaTheft is a term which both encompasses shoplifting and goes beyond it.  In fact, another term for shoplifting is petty theft, and is capped at 2000 dollars.  Full-blown theft, on the other hand, has no value cap.  It also follows slightly different standards.  Under Arizona law, theft is defined as either obtaining services without payment, finding property and not making an attempt to find the owner, or possessing property you believe is stolen.  Pursuant to these criteria,  the following outlines the different classes of theft based on the value of the property in question:

Class 2 felony-  You can be charged with a Class 2 felony if the stolen property is valued at or above 25,000 dollars.  For a first conviction, the presumptive sentence is five years in prison.

Class 3 felony- You can be charged with a Class 3 felony if the stolen property is valued between 4000 and 25,000 dollars.  The presumptive sentence is three and a half years in prison.

Class 4 felony-  You can be charged with a Class 4 felony if the stolen property is valued between 3,000 and 4,000 dollars.  The presumptive sentence is two and a half years in prison.  It must also be noted that theft of a vehicle is defined as a Class 4 felony.

Class 5 felony- You can be charged with a Class 5 felony if the stolen property is valued between 2,000 and 3,000 dollars.  The presumptive sentence is one and a half years in prison.

Civil Penalties:

In addition to criminal charges, a shoplifting offense may also involve direct negotiation with the shopkeeper.  A victim of shoplifting may sue the shoplifter for the value of the item stolen plus an established fee.  The shopkeeper may sue for up to 250 dollars in addition to the value of the item for adults and up to 100 dollars for the parents of minors.

Possible Defenses:

defenses to shoplifting laws in arizonaThere are a slew of defenses available for a shoplifting charge.  To successfully prosecute, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knowingly took goods with the intent to deprive the owner of those goods.  Because the prosecution must provide evidence to such a high degree of proof, a  successful shoplifting defense is very possible with the right attorney.

The first and most common defense is denying the intent to shoplift outright.  Perhaps you stuck something in your pocket absentmindedly and left the store, or maybe you passed the store’s detectors to grab a cart.  Based on a clean character assessment and proof of ability to pay, an experienced defense attorney could convince a judge that the shoplifting was accidental.  Although the statute of theft equates concealment of an item with intent to steal, an investigation of security tapes and witness reports can exonerate you in many instances.  For example, let us say the video shows you sticking an item in your purse, a clear violation of shoplifting law.  However, you do not seem to be distressed or in a hurry, and upon being caught, act in a surprised and apologetic manner.  An attorney can use this evidence to overcome the concealment presumption of theft.

In this same vein, mislabeling or past tampering with price tags may lead to unwitting shoplifting.  Under shoplifting law, switching tags on items to pay less constitutes the same as outright theft of an item, based on the value associated.  Say an aspiring shoplifter swapped two price tags with the intent to shoplift, but either forgot or got cold feet and left the item on the rack.  Then, without knowledge of this swap, you attempt to pay for the item in question and are charged with shoplifting.  Thinking an item is a bargain is not a crime, and an experienced defense attorney can gather evidence to prove your ignorance, and thus, innocence.

Like most other offenses, a shoplifting charge opens the possibility of a Miranda Rights violation; indeed, a shoplifting charge is especially conducive to both the presence and ability to provide evidence of these violations.  This is because most stores have private security guards who may behave overzealously when presented with theft, causing them to make any number of mistakes- including bullying or coercing a confession.  Because nearly all stores have their security detectors  monitored by cameras, and because those same stores are often filled with witnesses, obtaining evidence for a Miranda Rights violation where it exists is a relatively simple task compared to most other charges.

Plea Bargaining:

plea bargain and shoplifting laws in arizonaIn the state of Arizona, low-level, non-violent crimes like shoplifting can be diverted from criminal proceedings using plea bargaining or other prosecution diversion programs.  However, the nature of the shoplifting offense will determine whether or not you are eligible for plea bargaining.  This criteria includes but is not limited to:

  • Did you consume drugs or alcohol prior to the crime?
  • Did you involve others in the plan?
  • Was there an interaction with security, and if so, what was it like?
  • What is your criminal history?
  • Did you pay the merchant back?

Based on the answers to these questions, the courts will make a decision.  If it is proven that the theft was committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, this may help you avoid a criminal trial in favor of drug counseling and community service.  If others, especially minors, helped you steal, this implies both premeditation and a willingness to negatively affect others for your own gain- a situation which is unlikely to result in a bargaining position.  Did you pay the merchant back for what you either intentionally or accidentally stole?  If not, the merchant is more likely to testify against you and limit your ability to plea bargain.

Another possibility is to approach the merchant directly and ask them to drop the charges, pursuant to you paying for the item in full plus fees.  However, it is ultimately up to the State to drop the case regardless of the merchant’s will.  If the State does not want to fully drop the case but believes the charge to be fairly insignificant, they may allow a pre-trial diversion which forces you to plead guilt, pay fees and participate in community service in exchange for the cessation of criminal proceedings.  It must be noted that in nearly all cases, pre-trial diversions and plea bargaining is only available to first time offenders. Interested in learning more about shoplifting in the state of Arizona?  We’d love to hear from you!  Comment below or reach out to us on our social media  channels.  If you need criminal defense assistance for a shoplifting crime in the state of Arizona, contact an experienced defense attorney today.  For more information contact our 24 hour criminal defense lawyers in Tucson.