A charge of shoplifting is more serious than you’d think. Shoplifting is classified as both a nonviolent property crime and a civil wrong, so the defendant may face up to four months in jail for a criminal conviction and civil damages of as much as $1,000 for a guilty verdict in civil court.
It is important to remember that North Carolina follows a “structured sentencing” system. As the state’s Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission explains it, structured sentencing “classifies offenders on the basis of the severity of their crime and on the extent and gravity of their prior criminal record.” Courts cannot stray far from the mandatory minimums. What courts can do in some cases is to substitute community service for jail time.
Before we get into the specifics of sentencing, though, we should talk about what we mean by “shoplifting.” Generally, we think of shoplifting as putting something under a shirt or in a bag and walking out of the store without paying for it. This is, indeed, one of the state’s definitions. The important thing here is that the concealment be intentional or willful. The state recognizes that some of us are absent-minded.
Shoplifting is also defined as trying to obtain a lower price for an item by (willfully) transferring a price tag from one item to another, simply marking the price down on the existing price tag or substituting or superimposing a false price tag. To be guilty of the crime, a customer must then present the altered price tag to the cashier.
A more sophisticated approach to shoplifting actually bumps up the charge to a felony. Here, a customer who uses a lead- or aluminum-line bag or article of clothing “to prevent the activation of any antishoplifting or inventory control device” is guilty. The antishoplifting devices referred are things like the security tags we have become so used to in department stores.
We will cover sentencing in our next post.