Shoplifting is a surprisingly common criminal allegation that you can face in the Portland area. Just because it is common, though, does not mean it is trivial. The repercussions of a conviction for shoplifting can include fines and jail, but what is often overlooked is the effect of having a criminal record and the impact that can have on the quality of your life.
The Portland Maine criminal defense lawyers at WTB Law answer some of the most commonly asked questions about shoplifting law in Maine.
What are the Penalties of a Shoplifting Conviction in Maine?
It depends on what was allegedly stolen and how valuable it was. Most shoplifting allegations involve something valued under $500. These are Class E crimes that carry up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Shoplifting charges involving more valuable items carry higher penalties, as do allegations of shoplifting a gun or using a deadly weapon during the offense.
Once these fines are paid and the jail time served, though, the penalties of a shoplifting conviction linger on. For example, people who have been convicted of shoplifting are almost guaranteed to never be hired in the retail industry, and other employers are sure to frown on a past conviction. Shoplifters are also likely to get banned from the store, sometimes for life.
Are There Ways to Reduce the Penalties of a Shoplifting Conviction in Maine?
Yes. Depending on circumstances like your criminal history and the evidence that the prosecutor has against you, it can sometimes be in your interests to pursue a plea deal rather than an outright acquittal. If you have not yet been convicted for shoplifting in the past, you may be eligible for the shoplifter diversion program.
Diversion programs require you to plead guilty in exchange for the suspension of the sentence you could have received if convicted at trial. You must, however, complete the diversion program's requirements. These requirements often come in the form of probation, community service, and mandatory classes.
If you complete the diversion program successfully, the charges are often dropped and your record is wiped clean. If you fail in any regard, the case goes straight to sentencing because you have already pleaded guilty.
When Can I Get a Shoplifting Conviction in Maine Expunged from My Criminal Record?
You cannot get a shoplifting conviction expunged unless you were under the age of 18 and the circumstances of the shoplifting offense were minor.
Expungement is the act of sealing past criminal records from the public's eye. Maine's expungement laws are some of the strictest in the country. No matter what the underlying criminal offense was, it will stay on your criminal history forever if you were over 18 at the time.
The only time an adult can have a criminal record expunged is if the offense was a Class E crime and the adult was between 18 and 21 years old at the time of the offense. Because most shoplifting allegations are Class E crimes, it is possible for young adults to successfully have their shoplifting record expunged but only if the requirements are satisfied.
If you were under 18, then the rules of juvenile court come into play and you are far more likely to get your record sealed from public view.
Are Shoplifting Charges Different for Juveniles in Maine?
Yes. If someone under the age of 18 is arrested and charged with shoplifting, he or she will not go through the traditional justice system. Rather, the minor will head to juvenile court where the focus is more on rehabilitation than punishment. That means juveniles will face a sentence that is more likely to include probation, restitution, and mandatory classes rather than a sentence that includes jail and fines.
Just because the penalties are not as tough does not mean they are less serious. Juvenile defendants have much more of their lives ahead of them, so controlling the fallout of a shoplifting allegation is more difficult and also far more important.
Is There a Specific Law in Maine Dealing with Shoplifting?
No. In Maine, all instances of deliberately taking something with the intent to permanently deprive its rightful owner fall under the state's law that prohibits theft, which is found at 17-A Maine Statute § 351. This includes shoplifting.
Can I Still Be Charged for Shoplifting in Portland, Maine, if I Took Something Accidentally?
Yes, but remember a criminal charge is not a criminal conviction. You can be charged for a crime whenever law enforcement thinks it has probable cause to believe you committed the crime. This is a far cry from a conviction, which requires a judge or jury to decide whether you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Innocent people get charged for crimes they did not commit all the time – it is up to them and their defense lawyer to fight those charges and show their innocence.
In shoplifting cases where someone gets charged for leaving a store with an item, that often involves proving it was all an accident and you had no intent to deprive the store of its property.
Can I Be Arrested for Shoplifting After I Have Left the Store?
Yes. In fact, most allegations and criminal charges of shoplifting involve people who left a store unopposed or unchallenged by the staff there. In many of these cases, the store's inventory records do not align with the receipts, causing staff persons to review surveillance footage and report suspicious conduct to the police.
Shoplifting charges involving a chase through the store are actually relatively uncommon. It is not unusual for shoplifting charges to be filed weeks or even months after the alleged incident, let alone after someone has left the store and is in the parking lot.
Can a Storeowner or Employee Stop Me from Leaving a Store?
Yes, store employees or owners who have probable cause to believe that you have an item from the store and are trying to leave have a legal right to detain you in a reasonable manner for up to a half an hour. This right actually comes from a law in Maine – 17 Maine Statute § 3521 – called the shopkeeper's privilege.
In theory, this law allows store owners time to call the police without escalating the situation by taking matters into their own hands. Practically, though, it allows store owners and employees to profile patrons and presume the worst from some of the people in the store.
There are two important limitations to the shopkeeper's privilege:
- You can only be detained for up to a half hour; and
- Detention must be “reasonable.”
While the reasonableness of the detention is going to depend on the exact circumstances of your case, it's meant to prevent store owners from, for example, assaulting you. If either of these limitations is violated, you could have a right to file a civil lawsuit for false imprisonment against the store.
Do Stores in Maine Always File Criminal Charges for Shoplifting?
Not all of them do. Different stores – especially larger stores or chain stores, like Target or Wal-Mart – have their own internal policies about whether to internally resolve a shoplifting incident or report it to the police. In many of these store policies, a chief factor in this decision is the value of the items allegedly stolen. The shoplifting of valuable items is far more likely to lead to a formal criminal charge.
How Can an Attorney Help If I've Been Charged With Shoplifting?
Regardless of the situation, the professional help of a lawyer can make a huge difference in the outcome.
When the evidence is weak, an attorney can invoke your rights and make sure that every aspect of the prosecutor's case is challenged. In many cases, prosecutors realize that their odds of obtaining a conviction are slim and will drop the case. In others, it can lead to an acquittal at trial.
Even if the evidence against you is strong, an attorney can still work to make sure that the repercussions of the incident do not overly affect your life. A lawyer can help you make an informed decision about your options and can steer you towards an outcome that protects your interests rather than an outcome that gets dictated by prosecutors.
Portland Maine Shoplifting Defense Lawyers at WTB Law
The criminal defense lawyers at WTB Law strive to legally represent people in Portland, Biddeford, and Saco, among other communities, who have been accused of shoplifting from a store. With our help, you can fight the allegations and make sure that your rights are upheld and your interests and future are protected.
The consequences of a conviction are disturbingly high for such a small offense and can linger for years after the incident, so calling WTB Law at (207) 571-8146 or contacting us online for help is crucial if you have been accused of taking something from a store.