Given New York City's status as the retail capital of the world, it should come as no surprise that shoplifting cases are among the most common criminal cases in the New York City Criminal Court. Whether you are reading this because you either succumbed to a poor lapse in judgment or are being falsely accused by overzealous store security, it is important to keep in mind that while shoplifting, known as Petit Larceny (NY Penal Law § 155.25), may be a common charge in New York, it should in no way be taken less seriously than other criminal cases. [1]

Petit Larceny is defined as the theft of property with a value of $1,000 or less. It is considered a “class A" misdemeanor and is thus punishable by up to one year in jail. Other sentencing options include probation, conditional discharge, and fines.

When someone is arrested for shoplifting/petit larceny the police have the option of holding them in custody for arraignment before a criminal court judge. This process typically takes between 18 and 24 hours. The more common process in NYC is for the police to release them after a few hours with a Desk Appearance Ticket (“DAT"), and direct them to appear in court for the arraignment on a future date, usually within a few weeks.

While jail and probation may not be typical for first time offenders, the seriousness of a Petit Larceny conviction lies as much in the stigma that results from a permanent criminal record than from any potential sentence the court may impose. As New York State does not have an expungement statute, those convicted of criminal offenses such as Petit Larceny often encounter prejudice in employment, licensing, background checks and immigration.

Those accused of shoplifting in New York can also expect to receive a civil demand letter from the merchant’s attorneys, demanding payment for the value of the stolen property plus monetary penalties and attorneys' fees.

Because of the potential ramifications of a shoplifting-related conviction, it critical that anyone charged with shoplifting immediately seek the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney. A knowledgeable criminal lawyer will first review the criminal complaint to see if the allegations are sufficient to charge the specified criminal offense. The District Attorney must also furnish the defendant with a sworn statement, typically from a store security officer, stating the value of the stolen merchandise and a firsthand description of how it was taken. If the prosecution does not provide this information in a timely manner, your attorney can move to have the case dismissed on speedy trial grounds.

Even in cases where the criminal complaint is sufficient and the prosecution’s evidence is strong, the District Attorney may be willing to negotiate a plea to a non-criminal offense, or violation, which will not result in a permanent criminal record. Another possibility is an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal or “ACD", which allows the case to be dismissed six months after the ACD is granted, provided that you are not arrested again within that six-month period.

The potential for a negotiated plea bargain is another reason why an attorney is essential in any shoplifting case. The District Attorney’s Office will not negotiate directly with defendants in criminal cases...they will only deal with your attorney.

A knowledgeable attorney will also be able to effectively respond to any civil demand from the merchant’s attorney and can potentially save you substantial sums in civil penalties and fees.

If you have been charged with a shoplifting-related offense in New York City it is important that you consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney in advance of your next court date. If you, or someone you love, has just been arrested and are awaiting arraignment, you should immediately contact a lawyer to appear at the arraignment. As arrests are rarely planned and occur at all hours, a good criminal attorney is never far from reach and should be ready to spring into action at any hour.

In conclusion, shoplifting is a serious yet manageable offense in New York City. If you are facing criminal charges stemming from a shoplifting incident, the decisions you make now may very well impact your future. Contact an experienced and knowledgeable criminal lawyer who will protect your rights and help you avoid the stigma of a criminal conviction.

[1]Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree (NY Penal Law § 165.40) , a “class A" misdemeanor, is a frequently charged along with Petit Larceny in shoplifting cases in NYC.