Do I Really Need a Criminal Defense Attorney for a Misdemeanor Shoplifting Charge?
There’s no question that you want an attorney to advise you, even if you’ve only been charged with a misdemeanor shoplifting offense. Shoplifting can include many different allegations. A retailer may claim that you carried, hid, concealed or otherwise manipulated merchandise with the intent of stealing it or paying less for it.
In Massachusetts, shoplifters are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and the offense is viewed as a crime of moral turpitude, which could have immigration consequences for you if you’re not a United States citizen. Even if you are a citizen, a shoplifting conviction could impact your job prospects in the future, especially if you want to work in the financial sector or in retail. It could also impact your ability to travel to another country, your ability to finance a loan, and/or your ability to obtain a mortgage. The stakes in a shoplifting case are high, and should be treated accordingly. This is why it is a better idea to approach a shoplifting case with legal representation. If you have been charged with shoplifting, even if you think it’s just a minor misunderstanding, you definitely want to hire an attorney to represent you.
What Could Enhance or Aggravate a Shoplifting or Theft Charge Under Massachusetts Law?
Shoplifting charges can be quite serious depending on whether you’re being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony. The classification of your charges depends on the value of the stolen item. If you are accused of stealing merchandise or items that are worth more than $1,200, you’re going to be charged with a felony offense. Felony offenses are very serious. If convicted of a felony offense, you may serve time in state prison.
Changing price tags, committing refund fraud or intentionally using an illegitimate form of payment could also result in possible felony charges, all of which may result in being sentenced to prison time.
Are There any Defenses to Theft or Shoplifting Charges That Could Help my Case?
Every shoplifting or theft case is different, and therefore every shoplifting or theft case will require a unique defense strategy. You need a skilled criminal defense attorney to help you identify any potential defenses and to choose the best ones for your case. Whether you have a viable defense depends on the strength of the evidence against you, including whether there is a surveillance video, whether there are any credible witnesses, and whether you made any statements that could be used against you.
Even if there is strong evidence against you, there may still be hope. Massachusetts also offers pretrial diversion programs to certain individuals accused of first-time offenses and other low-level crimes. Diversion generally requires that you make restitution and complete other requirements like community service or pretrial probation. If you complete the diversion program and fulfill all the requirements, the charges against you will be dropped. This is the best-case scenario in many shoplifting cases.
Anyone standing accused of theft or shoplifting needs a skilled attorney to help them get the best outcome in their case. An experienced, well-versed attorney can help identify potential weaknesses in the case against you, and in some cases can potentially help you qualify for diversion programs.
What are the Most Frequently Asked Questions by People Facing Theft Charges?
I often get calls from people facing shoplifting or theft charges who have been summonsed for something called a Clerk Magistrate’s Hearing. A Clerk Magistrate Hearing is a hearing held with a clerk magistrate of the court, who will determine whether there is probable cause to issue a complaint against you. I get a lot of questions about whether or not it’s necessary to have an attorney present for one of these Clerk Magistrate Hearings. Invariably, I tell people that yes, you definitely should have an attorney present for a Clerk Magistrate Hearing regarding shoplifting matters.
What I can do as your attorney at a Clerk Magistrate Hearing is to help devise a strategy for your defense. The specific strategy best for you will vary depending on your case. Sometimes it’s presenting equitable information, information about your background, or information about the particular circumstances of what may have been happening that day. Sometimes it’s a strategy involving cross-examining potential witnesses or police officers who may testify, and sometimes there are strategies involving making restitution or other forms of payment that could result in criminal charges never being filed.
These Clerk Magistrate Hearings are very important because they can mean the difference between having a criminal charge on your record or not. It is therefore essential to approach these hearings with a sound strategy. Having a strategy will give the best possible chance to avoid having a criminal theft charge on your record.