Shoplifting in Missouri can be charged as an ordinance violation, misdemeanor, or felony. Missouri statutes do not have a separate offense for shoplifting or retail theft; instead, charges are covered under RSMo 570.303 Stealing. Many municipalities, particularly those with a lot of commercial development, have specific shoplifting ordinances. How any specific shoplifting incident will be charged depends on a variety of factors, including the amount and type of goods stolen, the method of stealing, and the arresting agency.
Ordinance Violation Shoplifting
Ordinances are rules passed by municipal (city or town) governments. They are independent of the statutory laws of the state of Missouri but are often similar in nature. Many cities have shoplifting ordinances even though there is no specific shoplifting statute in the Missouri code. For example, here are the codes for Des Peres and Richmond Heights.
These codes provide that anyone concealing unpurchased merchandise is presumed to have done so to commit a wrongful taking. They also allow merchants and their employees to reasonably detain anyone doing so for a reasonable length of time to determine if there has been a wrongful taking. In other words, you are considered guilty of shoplifting when you hide merchandise, and store employees can detain you without being liable for an unlawful arrest.
Ordinance violations can carry serious consequences, usually up to 90 days in jail and/or up to a $1000 fine, but it is generally “better” to be charged under a municipal code than the state criminal statutes. A lawyer often will have an easier time negotiating an amendment to a lesser charge and avoiding severe punishment or damage to your record with an ordinance violation.
Shoplifting in Missouri is covered by RSMo 570.030. This is a catch-all stealing statute that covers crimes punishable by just a fine all the way up to the highest level of felony in the state. If you are charged under the statute, it will be considered stealing, not shoplifting. Generally, shoplifting is a class D misdemeanor punishable by a fine if the amount is under $150 and you don't have any prior stealing charges. It can be a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine if you have prior stealing convictions or if the amount is between $150 and $750.
It may seem tempting to forgo the expense of a lawyer and plead guilty to first-time shoplifting given that the punishment is only a fine. Keep in mind that this will count as a prior if you are ever charged with stealing in the future.
Shoplifting in Missouri can be a felony if you have three prior stealing convictions or if the amount is more than $750. The statute also has special provisions for the theft of certain items. The items that seem at least slightly plausible for shoplifting are firearms, anything you intend to use to make meth, credit devices, and controlled substances. Less plausible are live fish raised for commercial purposes, wills, deeds, U.S. flags, and wire, among other things. Technically, you can be charged with a felony if you shoplift any amount of these items. This is exceedingly rare.
Most felony shoplifting will be for cases involving three prior convictions. That is why it is important to not plead guilty to a first-time offense. Hire a lawyer, get it amended, and keep your record relatively clean. Once you get your first conviction, subsequent charges are harder to amend.
Shoplifting more than $750 worth of merchandise can also be a felony. If you manage to shoplift more than $25,000 it can be a class C felony punishable by 3 to 10 years in prison. Per the statute, any “property or services appropriated pursuant to one scheme or course of conduct, whether from the same or several owners and whether at the same or different times, constitutes a single criminal episode and may be aggregated in determining the grade of the offense.”
In other words, if you shoplift multiple times before you are caught, the state can add the value of every instance when determining what class the crime is. Some retailers have amazing surveillance systems. When they catch someone, particularly if they are under-ringing or tag switching, the loss prevention team can go back and determine if there were other episodes. They can then add up the value of the merchandise stolen. It is pretty easy in cases like this to get to $750 (but not every case of theft over $750 will be charged as a felony).
Because shoplifting can be charged as anything from an ordinance violation up to a serious felony, it is difficult to give much insight into the range of punishment. Most shoplifting cases, however, are charged as ordinance violations or, less commonly, misdemeanor stealing.
Ordinance violation shoplifting charges can often be resolved with an amendment to a lesser charge like jaywalking along with a fine. This occurs most often in cases where the property is recovered at the scene and the person committing the crime is not an employee of the store.
Misdemeanor shoplifting charges can occasionally be resolved with an amendment to a lesser charge, but often they will have a different outcome. This can include a suspended imposition of sentence, basically a probationary period (usually of 2 years) which, if successfully completed, will result in no charges on your criminal record. There are often stipulations, including a shoplifting education program, community service, fines, and restitution for any unrecovered merchandise.
Why Hire Attorney Ruth Beerup?
Ruth has been defending clients against shoplifting charges for more than 25 years, first as a public defender in the 1990s and continuing for over two decades in private practice focusing solely on criminal defense. She has seen it all. She knows when the state has a good case and when they don't. She knows the best deal that can be achieved in each case, and how to get it. So, if you are looking for a lawyer who can handle your case for a reasonable fee and in a way that minimizes the damage to your personal and professional reputation, give her a call at 636-940-1111 today.