Larceny / Shoplifting / Theft

When I talk to someone facing a shoplifting or theft charge, I almost always find good people are incredibly embarrassed and ashamed at the impulsive mistake that they made.  And I have found that quite a few of my clients accused of shoplifting have anxiety to begin with, as well as mild compulsions. That’s ok.

Criminal Charge in Massachusetts? Call Attorney Russell Matson at (781) 817-6332.
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I understand exactly what you are going through, and I can help.

And you may be surprised that there can be very good options to make this charge go away fairly easily, with minimum hassle. Even if you are guilty.

On paper, being charged with a theft offense can be serious.  Even minor criminal shoplifting offenses can severely impact your life and your future. And serious, high-value theft crimes can be major felonies where you could be facing years in prison if convicted. But that is rare.

Whatever happened to get you to this charge, I know I can help. Perhaps it was a simple mistake—you forgot to pay something. However, maybe you thought you could get away, just this once, with taking something that wasn’t yours.

You may have done nothing wrong, and been in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. Or you may have just had a momentary lapse of judgment that lead to something that you now seriously regret.

Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up! But you need legal help to try to fix this problem with the minimum possible damage.

I’ve helped defend my clients against a variety of larceny and shoplifting cases and would like to help you with yours. Contact me immediately for a free consultation.

Can I Win A Shoplifting or Larceny Case?

Shoplifting charges often end up at Clerk's Hearings.

Shoplifting charges often end up at Clerk’s Hearings.

Yes. Most shoplifting incidents begin with a criminal citation, which is resolved at a clerk magistrate’s hearing. At these hearings, it is often very possible to get a case dropped completely.

Even if you are arrested, we can often successfully argue for the case to be continued, and then later dismissed with no admission of guilt or conviction.

Even if you know you are guilty.  Even if the store has you on videotape, and you were caught red-handed and detained by a store security guard.

It’s absolutely true, even though many people find this hard to believe.

If it is your first offense, and you’ve never been in trouble before, I can often successfully argue at a hearing that issuing a criminal complaint and putting you in the system doesn’t serve the cause of justice. And making the charge go away for restitution (if necessary) or minor court costs is a great deal if it avoids you getting any criminal record.

Case Wins – Larceny/Shoplifting
April 2017
Shoplifting
Dudley District Court
Dismissed after 1 year
January 2017
Larceny Over $250
Woburn District Court
Dismissed
January 2017
Larceny Over $250
Eastern Hampshire District Court (Belchertown)
Decriminalized
January 2017
Felony Larceny
Fitchburg District Court
CWOF/Probation
January 2017
Shoplifting
Woburn District Court
Dismissed after 3 months
December 2016
Shoplifting
Boston Municipal District Court
Dismissed
November 2016
Larceny over $250
Boston Municipal District Court
Dismissed after 2 years
October 2016
Shoplifting
Woburn District Court
Dismissed
October 2016
Shoplifting
Wrentham District Court
Dismissed
September 2016
Shoplifting
Lowell District Court
Dismissed
August 2016
Larceny over $250
Quincy District Court
No Charges Issued
July 2016
Shoplifting
Wrentham District Court
Dismissed
June 2016
Larceny over $250
Salem District Court
Dismissed
June 2016
Shoplifting
Attleboro District Court
Dismissed
May 2016
Shoplifting
Woburn District Court
Dismissed
May 2016
Shoplifting
Dedham District Court
Pretrial Probation
April 2016
Shoplifting
Lawrence District Court
Dismissed
March 2016
Shoplifting
Fall River District Court
Dismissed
March 2016
Larceny Over $250
Wrentham District Court
Dismissed
March 2016
Larceny Under $250
Wrentham District Court
Dismissed
February 2016
Larceny Over $250
Waltham District Court
Dismissed after 2 months
January 2016
Larceny over $250
Quincy District Court
Dismissed

I wrote a book on beating charges like shoplifting at Clerk Magistrate’s hearings, and there are typically many different ways we can get the clerk to agree to drop a shoplifting case.

  • Volunteer for an online course. Acknowledging the problem and working to resolve it by voluntarily taking a shoplifting course can be helpful. There is an online version written by the Nat’l Assoc for Shoplifting Prevention at http://takeatheftclass.org/ for $75.
  • Admit to anxiety and compulsions. Many of my clients accused of shoplifting have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. Often an admission of those issues, getting help from a doctor, or changes in medication can explain the situation to some degree, and give the clerk a reason to not proceed with a criminal shoplifting charge.
  • A one time mistake from a person with no criminal record. Even when there is clear evidence to all that the incident happened, and the Clerk-Magistrate would be completely justified in allowing the criminal charge to go forward, I can argue for you that there is no benefit to society in charging you for this poor and uncharacteristic lapse in judgment.
  • Sometimes honesty is the best policy. It might not be convincing in all cases, but sometimes if we don’t deny the obvious facts, the Clerk Magistrate will accept our honestly. After doing so, we’ve had cases where we were able to get the case dropped after being “thanked for our honesty” and have the incident chalked up to a “learning experience”.

Shoplifting by Mistake

We have had a number of clients say were distracted and left the store, either thinking they had paid, or forgotten that they had not put back the item in their possession.

There are also new shopping and checkout systems that can make it confusing about whether or not the payment went through. Self checkout kiosks are common in grocery stores and other places.

Stop and Shop Supermarket Self Scanning Gun

Self-scanning gun at Stop&Shop

Some supermarkets like Stop and Shop now have scanner guns where you scan the items before you even put them in your shopping cart. If you don’t check out properly at the end, you might be charged with shoplifting by mistake.

Massachusetts Shoplifting Laws

Often when we think of the words “theft” and “shoplifting” we picture someone putting something of relatively small value in their pocket without paying.

Shoplifting doesn’t always mean walking out of a store with something stashed in your pocket or purse. You can also face shoplifting charges if you alter a tag to reflect a cheaper price or by replacing it in a container of another value.

You can be charged with theft of anything that can be assigned a dollar value. For example, if you steal a pet snake, you can be charged with theft of a snake valued at less than $100.

Often a criminal citation will be written up as Shoplifting by Asportation under MGL Ch 266, Section 30A. Asportation is simply the act of illegally carrying property away.

There can also be a separate charge of Deactivation or removal of a theft device under Section 30 B.

Though the act of shoplifting itself and trying to deactivate a deterrence device are technically separate charges, usually both charges are dealt with together, and you aren’t likely to face more serious consequences in typical cases, especially on a first offense. If there is evidence suggesting you are a professional thief or part of a shoplifting ring, then the police or prosecution may push harder on penalties, but that is not typical for most people.

Shoplifting Penalties

Under Massachusetts statutes, shoplifting is classified as larceny. The level of the charge and the potential sentence you face depends on the value of the items.

However, you are very unlikely to be facing a serious risk of jail time, even though the maximum penalties look scary.

  • If the item is valued at more than $100, you can face up to 2 ½ years in prison and fines as a maximum penalty. (This never happens, don’t worry)
  • If the value is less than $100, you will face up to 2 years, but only if this if your third offense.
  • A first offense shoplifting charge of less than $100 is a $250 fine, but will still appear on your criminal record if convicted.

For a first offense with no  criminal record, even a worst case scenario is probably just a criminal conviction and probation. But of course, our goal is to avoid any criminal charge on your record.

How Does the Process Work? What Should I Do?

This infographic explains the entire process. It looks a little complicated, but we can go over any questions you have and discuss details and options for your situation.

Massachusetts Shoplifting Infographic (lowres 72dpi)

Shoplifting Civil Charges (Civil Relief Action letter)

Stores, especially the big retail chains like Macy’s, Kohls, and Walmart will often send you a threatening letter citing MGL Ch 231 Section 85R where they have the right to seek “civil relief”. They may write you a letter and ask for a payment of $250 or $500, or else they will seek additional civil action, including attorney fees and other costs.

Kohl’s has a “Loss Prevention” website to extract fees from shoplifters at kohlslp.com. And this is for people they already caught and didn’t even get away with any merchandise. Their actual losses are only the time and effort it took to stop you and process you. Walmart outsources their letters to an official looking law firm in New York and also just wants you to pay on a website.

One Massachusetts judge, Douglas Stoddart, called this “ethically wrong” and is pledging to fight and stop this predatory and coercive practice. It is an additional profit center for these retailers and targeted at the most vulnerable people, regardless of the mistakes they may have made.

Should you pay it? No you shouldn’t. And we can help you stop them from sending you harassing letters. Read my full post on this.

The Police are threatening me about my shoplifting notice, what should I do?

We’ve had clients told by the police that if they don’t pay the civil relief notice they will be charged. That is a lie. The two things are unrelated.

The cops are often cruel and threatening, and absolutely will lie to accused shoplifters to scare you. We had a client who stole a few baby items in a store while her kids were with her. The officer claimed he could have arrested her for child endangerment and called DCF and had her kids taken away. That is not true, he was just being a bully. It’s terrifying, but it happens.

Ref: MGL c.266 §30A

Massachusetts Larceny Laws

Larceny is defined under Massachusetts law as stealing or obtaining by false pretenses, the property of another. It also applies to cases of embezzlement and attempted conversion of property.

The penalty you face for a larceny charge depends on the value property in question.

  • If the value is less than $250, you will face misdemeanor charges with penalties of up to one year in jail and fines reaching $300.
  • However, if the value exceeds $250, you will face felony charges with penalties of up to 5 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.

There are circumstances when these potential sentences can be elevated depending on the nature of your specific charges.

But it is extremely rare for there to be a legitimate risk of jail time on a simple larceny offense.

Ref: MGL c.266 §30

 I will look for every possible chance to get a criminal larceny or shoplifting charge dropped in exchange for restitution or other non-criminal penalties. At clerk magistrate’s hearings, we very often win these cases, and no charge is issued, which is the best case.

If you are arraigned and formally charged with a crime, it is most likely that it will end in a plea agreement. The terms of that plea depend on the circumstances that led to the charges, but I will always fight for the minimum sentence possible. And there are still excellent opportunities to avoid a permanent criminal charge, with diversion programs and other alternative sentencing options.

However, if you are innocent of the charges against you and want to fight them—I will have your back.

When you are up against theft charges an experienced defense attorney can make a difference in your results and your confidence level. Call me today and put your mind at ease. I can offer you some free legal advice and we can discuss different legal strategies.

 

(781) 817-6332

Call Now for a Free Criminal Consultation.