Were you accused of shoplifting? Shoplifting is a serious offense that can have severe consequences that can impact your future dramatically. It is vital that you know and exercise your rights if you are falsely accused of shoplifting.
In Maryland, shoplifting is considered a theft crime, and depending on the circumstances, these crimes can turn into a felony charge. The first step in fighting shoplifting charges is seeking help from a criminal lawyer who can analyze your case’s facts and develop a solid defense strategy. Remember, the police are not your friend and anything you tell them can and will be used against you — your best bet is to keep your mouth shut and call your lawyer.
Let’s talk about what to do when you’re accused of shoplifting in Maryland by getting a basic understanding of shoplifting charges and what you should — and should not do if you’ve been accused.
Understanding Maryland Shoplifting Charges
In Maryland, stealing or concealing a stolen item is considered shoplifting. Shoplifting also occurs when an individual removes or attempts to remove the merchandise from a public display. A store manager can also claim a customer is shoplifting if they observe them removing or substituting a price tag or disarming an alarm on an item.
Since the state doesn’t have specific statutes to address shoplifting, such crimes often result in theft charges. If the merchandise value is $1,500 or less, the shoplifting case is treated as a misdemeanor. However, when it comes to shoplifting cases involving merchandise valued above $1,500, it is a felony crime and can result in incarceration if the defendant is found guilty.
Critical Steps You Should Take if You Are Ever Facing Shoplifting Accusations
1. Don’t Run From Security
Before the police are involved, you might get stopped by the store’s security guard or private security team. When this happens, your initial reaction might be to flee the scene, making you appear guilty.
In Maryland, retail store owners are protected by the Shopkeeper’s Privilege law which legally allows them to reasonably detain a customer if they observe them stealing or concealing merchandise. If you are illegally detained by store security or if undue force is used in the process your lawyer can challenge this in court.
2. Stay Silent
If you have been detained it’s best to keep calm and remain silent. According to most store policies, there has to be probable cause to accuse and detain a customer on theft. This usually means that an employee has to have directly observed someone stealing or concealing an item.
If you were accused of stealing and are subsequently detained, you should exercise your right to remain silent. What you can say can be used against you in court. Therefore, other than stating your name you should limit the information you provide. Arguing with the store personnel and getting aggressive with them can make matters worse.
What about if you are taken into police custody? You may feel inclined to defend yourself and offer an explanation but keep in mind that you can unintentionally incriminate yourself. It’s best to remain silent and request to speak with a lawyer.
3. Never Consent To A Search
It’s important to know that the store personnel and their security team don’t have the legal right to perform a search. Never consent to a search, especially if you do indeed have the item in question in your possession. The store owner might let you go once they retrieve their items back but this isn’t a guarantee.
In some cases, the store personnel may try to extend their search to your vehicle or cellphone. It’s important to know that they don’t have the legal grounds to perform such a search without your permission.
4. Consider That Mistakes Happen
Perhaps the store employee or manager made a honest mistake and thought they saw you take something. If you came into the store with the item in question, showing the receipt, the store owner can clear up the situation. However, if they continue to accuse you of stealing, you should exercise your right to remain silent so that you won’t say anything that can be used against you in the future.
5. Ask To See Evidence
If the store manager or security personnel claim that they have evidence to support their claims, you have the right to see what they have against you. For example, if the security guard says that they caught you on camera stealing, you are entitled to see the footage.
Consult With An Criminal Defense Attorney Today
If you are facing shoplifting charges seeking help from an experienced criminal lawyer early on in the process can make a significant difference.
The best defense is a good offense. Therefore, as soon as there is an accusation of a criminal charge, it is crucial that you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. Select someone who is knowledgeable in your specific charge and defense.
Jeremy Widder Law is a Maryland-based legal firm specializing in protective orders and minor offenses, substance-related offenses, property crimes and non-violent felonies, as well as major offenses and violent felonies.
Getting charged with a crime can be scary. You want someone who will listen and be your advocate. We are committed to walking with you from start to finish and giving your unique case the attention it deserves.
Contact Jeremy Widder Law for your consultation today.