Can You Get Caught Shoplifting Weeks Later? Shoplifting Charges After Leaving Store

You can still be arrested for shoplifting after leaving the store without getting caught. If you are accused of shoplifting, the attorneys at Weeden advise you to contact us for a free consultation as soon as possible. As experienced criminal defense attorneys, we understand how to prepare and defend shoplifting or theft charges.

What is considered Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is when someone takes an item from a store without paying for it. According to state law, shoplifting involves any of the following:

  • Stealing merchandise
  • Removing an item for sale or on display without paying for it
  • Removing or altering a price tag in order to pay less than the marked price
  • Returning an item to a retailer who did not sell you the item and trying to get store credit or cash

Shoplifting can occur in any store, retail business, or establishment with merchandise for sale. 

Many stores have surveillance cameras designed to capture footage of shoplifters. If you were able to leave the store without being caught, you may not be as safe as you think.

If the store took footage of you shoplifting and you are identified in the footage, you can be charged with theft any time within the statute of limitations. The store may decide that the cost of pursuing charges against you is less than the cost of losing the merchandise. This is not likely if the merchandise stolen was worth a lot of money.

You should avoid going back to the store after shoplifting without getting caught. There’s a possibility that the same employee could be working and recognize you. They could also put up your photo if they got footage of you on camera. Stores often share information about shoplifters with other businesses. The store where you shoplifted might share your photo with other retailers in the area.

What do I do if the police or store contact me about shoplifting?

Stores often prosecute shoplifting without having the police contact you. You don’t need to be arrested at the store to be charged. It can take several weeks or months for the retailer to file charges against you.

The store will present their evidence to the local police department when they are ready to file charges. The police will then refer the case to a prosecutor, who will work with the court to issue you a citation, complaint, or summons. If it was a felony theft, you could receive an arrest warrant

If you receive a citation, complaint, or summons for shoplifting, this is when to hire a criminal defense attorney. The next steps you take will be critical. Failure to appear in court on time could result in a bench warrant. This could lead to your arrest and seriously complicate your case.

It is fairly common in these types of cases for law enforcement officials to offer plea deals in an attempt to get someone to admit guilt. A plea deal is not necessarily a bad idea. But you should never simply accept the first offer you get – not without talking it over with an experienced defense attorney.

How long do the police have before I can be charged for shoplifting?

All criminal offenses have corresponding statutes of limitations. A statute of limitations is the amount of time a prosecutor has to file charges against someone they think has committed a crime. Usually the period of time begins as soon as the crime is committed. 

In Colorado, the statute of limitations for theft crimes is different. The statute of limitations for shoplifting begins on the date the theft is discovered, not on the day it was committed. This means that you could be prosecuted for shoplifting years after the fact.

After discovering the theft, the statute of limitations depends on the value of the goods stolen and the prior record of the shoplifter.

  • For a petty offense, usually something under $50, the statute of limitations is 6 months
  • For a misdemeanor theft, usually something from around $50 to $2,000, the statute of limitations is 18 months
  • For a felony theft, usually anything over $2,000, the statute of limitations is 3 years

Keep in mind that the level of offense can change depending on a lot of different factors. 

Sometimes it will take weeks or months for the store to file charges because of the constraints of video footage. Even if the store caught you on camera or a security guard saw you, it might take a while for the store to get a positive ID from the footage. If the store positively identifies you, they might check for other occurrences of shoplifting. They will look through their archives with facial recognition software to see if you were in the store on other occasions.

What are the penalties I could face for shoplifting?

The penalties for shoplifting depend on the value of the stolen goods. 

  • Class 1 petty offense: shoplifting items valued below $50. Punishable with 6 months in jail and a $500 fine.
  • Class 3 misdemeanor: shoplifting items valued between $50 and $300. Punishable with 6 months in jail and a $750 fine.
  • Class 2 misdemeanor: shoplifting items valued between $300 and $750. Punishable with a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • Class 1 misdemeanor: shoplifting items valued between $750 and $2,000. Punishable with 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
  • Class 6, 5, 4, 3 felony: shoplifting items valued above $2,000. The maximum penalty for a Class 3 felony shoplifting conviction in Colorado is 12 years in prison and a $750,000 fine.

If you have prior criminal convictions, you could face a more severe charge, regardless of the value of the stolen goods. Jail time, fines and probation are all possible. 

It’s important to know that these sentences and dollar amounts are only guidelines for sentencing. With an experienced criminal law attorney at Weeden Law, you may be able to negotiate a lower classification and penalty. Even if a lower classification or penalty is not possible, a good attorney should at the very least be able to work with the prosecution and judge to lessen your sentence.

If you are a first time offender, you may qualify for pretrial diversion. A diversion program might combine community service, counseling, payment of restitution, and probation. If a defendant successfully completes a diversion program, the charge will be dismissed. 

Stores can also sue shoplifters in civil court for damages. In civil court, one person sues another person because of a dispute or problem between them. A business or agency can also file a case in civil court or be sued in civil court.  If someone loses a case in civil court, that person may be ordered to pay money to the other side or return property, but that person does not go to jail just for losing the case. Damages can be awarded for the value of stolen items, as well as an additional penalty. The convicted shoplifter can face a civil penalty plus the value of the stolen goods. 

How long could my shoplifting conviction stay on my record?

Having a criminal record could negatively impact several areas of your life. It could affect your current or future job prospects, voting rights, housing eligibility, credit score, and more.

Some crimes qualify for sealing or expungement in Colorado, if you’re a minor. If a crime is expunged from your record, it is completely removed and can never be held against you again. If a crime is sealed, only some legal professionals would be able to see it for specific purposes, such as if you commit another crime.

Many types of shoplifting charges are eligible for expungement. The experienced Colorado defense attorneys at Weeden Law can guide you through the process of applying for expungement.

Whether the offense is a petty offense, felony or a misdemeanor, you must take this case very seriously. Although you made a mistake by shoplifting, you don’t have to make a second one by not hiring a lawyer. The Denver theft crime attorneys at WeedenLaw help you build a case to protect your rights and reduce charges against you. We have been successful in having our clients’ charges dropped altogether on many occasions. Contact us to receive a free consultation today.

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