As criminal lawyers here in New York City we encounter plenty of people who make big mistakes in the frightening early moments when they’re being accused of a crime. We’ve also defended plenty of people who are accused of shoplifting but who are innocent.
Maybe there was a mishap at the self-checkout line, and you took something you thought you scanned. Maybe you legitimately forgot to put an item on the belt when you checked out. You may have even gotten distracted for a moment and thrown an item into your purse or bag by mistake. Sometimes, loss prevention (retail security) officers will even end up accusing you of shoplifting when you don’t have any merchandise on you, because they thought they saw you take something, and they don’t always back down when they find you outside the store without a scrap of stolen merchandise.
False convictions happen all the time, and they happen, in part, because of these mistakes. Here’s what you need to know.
Your first job is to gather as much information as possible.
What are you being accused of stealing? What is the name of the loss prevention officer who is detaining you?
Did you have the alleged item on you? Is there a reasonable explanation? Possible evidence to support the explanation? Make sure you take note of all of this information. You will want to pass it on to your lawyer later.
Your second job is to avoid signing or saying anything incriminating.
Joseph Addams, a 16-year veteran of the retail loss prevention industry, offers an inside look into his industry. Intimidating people into signing documents that admit their guilt, that ban them from the store, and that locks them into paying fees was part of his job. You can read more about his bird’s eye view as a loss prevention officer here.
You are never legally required to sign anything. You do not have to answer any questions. In fact, you are better off telling the loss prevention officer to call the police. You might get arrested, but you won’t end up signing what amounts to a false confession. Your next call should be to your lawyer.
Realize being allowed to go home does not mean you’re off the hook.
The officer who takes the call might not arrest you. Instead, you might be issued a Desk Appearance Ticket. This document lists your crime and your court date. You must make that date if you want to avoid even worse consequences.
We can’t stress this enough. Receiving a DAT means you are being charged with a crime. You must take it seriously.
Call an attorney as soon as possible. It could mean the difference between conviction and freedom.
There are ways to defend against shoplifting charges. Make no mistake, even a misdemeanor conviction can lead to life-changing consequences, including jail time and a criminal record. If you are accused of stealing enough merchandise, you could be looking at felony charges as well.
Hiring a private attorney can make all the difference. If you’ve received a DAT or have been arrested for shoplifting, call us to get help today.
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