Shoplifting is a common criminal offense that occurs when someone unlawfully takes or steals merchandise offered for sale from a retail store. Shoplifting from retail stores costs merchants an estimated loss of 13 billion dollars per year, and is a widely practiced offense throughout the world. Shoplifting charges can range from very small, minor infractions to organized criminal activity on a mass scale. Shoplifting charges can include a forgotten object in your pocket, leaving a store with merchandise in your bags, or with a bag designed to conceal merchandise. Even minor criminal shoplifting offenses can vastly affect your life and your future, and a conviction for a more serious theft crime may result in a prison sentence. Aside from the potential sentencing from the judicial system, aspects of your life and you future may be at risk. A criminal record in the state of Massachusetts could hinder your ability to gain employment, enroll in educational institutions, finance loans or a mortgage, travel or leave the country, and other negative consequences.

The crime of shoplifting is defined by Massachusetts G.L. c. 266 s. 30A. The law provides that anyone who intentionally takes possession of, carries away, transfers or causes to be carried away or transferred, any merchandise possessed by a store with the intention of deriving the merchant of the possession or use of benefit of such merchandise without paying to the merchant the value thereof shall be punishable under this section. The law also dictates that anyone who engages in label-switching, tag altering, container switching, the theft of shopping carts and other means of obtaining merchandise for less than retail value shall be punishable under this section as well. The penalties associated with this law are separated regarding the amount of value of the goods obtained.

Any offender of this law shall be subject to the following penalties if the value of the goods obtained is less than $100:

  • First Offense: A fine not to exceed $250
  • Second Offense: A fine not less than $100 nor more than $500
  • Third or Subsequent Offense: A Fine of not more than $500, or imprisonment in a jail for not more than 2 years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Any offender of this law shall be subject to the following penalties if the value of the goods obtained equals or exceeds $100:

  • A fine of not more than $1,000, or
  • Imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2.5 years, or
  1. Both such fine and imprisonment
The Prosecution’s Burden of Proof

In order for a defendant to be convicted of the crime of shoplifting, the prosecution must be able to prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The defendant intentionally took possession of, carried away or transferred, or caused to be carried away or transferred retail merchandise;
  2. The defendant did so with an intent to deprive the merchant of its possession, use of benefit, or with an intent to convert it to his or her own use without having paid full value for it; and
  3. The merchandise was owned or possessed by someone other than the defendant.

For the purposes of this law, “retail merchandise” shall be taken to include products or goods that are offered for sale directly to consumers. It refers to the type of merchandise sold in an ordinary store open to the public, as opposed to goods sold in bulk to merchants but not directly to the public. In some cases, the crime of larceny may be used as an alternative to a shoplifting charge for goods with value of $100 or over. In Commonwealth v. Hudson, the Court held that theft of retail merchandise may be prosecuted either under the shoplifting law (G.L. c. 266, § 30A) or under the larceny law (G.L. c. 266, § 30). However, an amendment to the law provides that an offender who shoplifts goods worth less than $100 may only be charged under with shoplifting, not larceny.

Strategic Massachusetts Shoplifting Defense Attorney

Regardless of whether you forgot to pay for something, or had a momentary lapse in judgment, it is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. In fact, with the help of a skilled Massachusetts shoplifting defense attorney, an alleged shoplifting or larceny offender may be able to avoid criminal penalties or have their case dismissed under certain instances. If you've been accused of shoplifting you will need an experienced Boston, Massachusetts criminal defense attorney who will fight vigorously on your behalf. The Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy has substantial trial experience defending clients accused of shoplifting and larceny offenses, and is ready, willing and able to put that experience to work for you. Don’t jeopardize your future; contact the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy immediately for a free legal assessment of your case by calling (617) 367-0450 or submitting the online contact form directly to Attorney Murphy.

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