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How to defend against a shoplifting charge

Facing a criminal charge for shoplifting can be intimidating. You may want to simply plead guilty and get the case over with as quickly as possible. However, challenging the charge may ultimately pay off. If convicted, here are some of the penalties for shoplifting in Virginia:

  • Property under $200: Jail time for up to 1 year.
  • Property $200 or over: Imprisonment from 1 to 20 years.
  • Civil penalties: Between $50 and $350 in damages to the store owner.

Thankfully, a good defense may see the charges dropped, reduced or expunged. Here are some examples of how you may fight allegations of shoplifting. 

Challenging witness testimonies

Some shoplifting cases hinge on witness observations. Those who say they witnessed your crime may not be reliable, objective or truthful. For example, you may prove the witness is biased or lying. 

Poking holes in video footage

Most retail establishments have surveillance cameras. While security footage may sound like it is almost always reliable, this is not the case in every situation. There may be lapses in the recording. The footage may also not clearly show you concealing or stealing anything. 

Arguing lack of intent

To commit a shoplifting offense, you must intentionally conceal or possess an item for the purpose of depriving the seller of it without paying. You will only get a conviction if the prosecutor proves you purposefully shoplifted. Just because you put an item in your pocket and/or walk out the store with it does not automatically mean it is a purposeful action. You may accidentally do this because of distractions or pre-occupations. 

Negotiating a plea deal

If there is sufficient evidence against you, you may consider entering a plea bargain. This may be plausible if you are likely to receive a conviction. A plea bargain can result in less severe consequences.

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