Often, a storekeeper or, in a larger store, loss prevention, will stop a person suspected of stealing and legally detain them to investigate their suspicions. The law permits this -- within limits -- and if the "store" determines there has been retail fraud, they usually call the police. As with any report of a crime, the police will investigate and, if they think they have a solid case, will refer the case to the prosecutor. If the prosecutor thinks the case has merit, a warrant will be issued.
Can I bond out?
If you have been arrested for retail fraud, usually there is a table of bond amounts, and you can be released by posting bond. If you bond out, you will have a notice to appear, if not, you will be brought to court for your pretrial conference. Often, you can be release on personal recognizance (PR) bond. A Magistrate can set or reduce bond.
I was charged with retail fraud 3rd degree. What is that?
Retail fraud 3rd degree means a theft of less than $200. You do not have to remove merchandize from the store to be charged -- concealing it with the intent to steal may be enough. Changing price labels is enough, as is moving something to another box. Retail fraud 3rd degree can result in 93 days in jail or $500 fine. Sentences are usually less than that, and for a first offense, your attorney can seek a diversion or other outcome to protect your record.
What happens if I steal again?
A second offense of 3rd degree can result in a charge of retail fraud 2nd degree, OR you can be charged with 2nd degree for stealing $200 or more. This is also a misdemeanor, but can carry up to 1 year in jail or $2000 fine. Courts are not happy to see someone come through court again.
Can retail fraud ever be a felony?
Yes. Stealing over $1000 in merchandize can result in a retail fraud 1st degree charge, a 5 year felony, or $10,000 fine. A prior conviction of 2nd degree can also result in 1st degree (but not 3rd degree.) The prosecutor can add any retail fraud over the last 12 months to come up with the 1000 figure where there is a "course of conduct." Steal $100 per month, and end up with a felony. Felonies are subject to guidelines, so a first felony will probably result in about a year. Felonies are also subject to habitual offender enhancement, which can multiply the sentence.
What is a civil demand letter?
The store also has the right to demand payment from you. This is to help stores recover costs. If you have paid back the store, most attorneys suggest that you ignore the letter. The store may still come after you in civil court, but it does not seem to pay out for them.
What is kleptomania?
Kleptomania is a mental disorder that leads to stealing, often things of little value. It can be treated, and some courts will permit plea bargains that include treatment so the defendant will not repeat their offense.
What should I do?
You need an attorney. There is much more about retail fraud that will not fit in this short FAQ. There are restrictions on what the storeowner can do, there are all sorts of way that the behavior other than just walking out the door the crime can be charged. There may be search issues. Your lawyer will try to minimize the damage to your life.
Additional resources provided by the author
Your best source of information is your attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, ask the judge for one. Do not talk to the police - they are allowed to trick you. As to see an lawyer, and state that you wish to remain silent until you speak with your lawyer.