Shoplifting is a crime that is most often committed by young, middle class people so it is fairly common for the accused to worry that it is going to affect the rest of their life. Utah’s Retail Theft law lists a number of different ways that someone can “deprive the merchant” of property and thus be accused of shoplifting. In plain English, those ways include:
- 1) Taking merchandise from a store without paying
2) Swapping price tags on items to reduce the cost
3) Hiding merchandise in another container to avoid paying for it
4) Intentionally under-ringing at the checkout
5) Stealing shopping carts
More than any other crime, people accused of shoplifting are quick to admit that they did it. Usually they preface it with, “I did something really foolish…” and then they want to know what penalties they are facing. The good news is that a first time offender can often avoid jail time, but that bad news is that any criminal record carries long term consequences and may affect a person’s employment, present or future.
The best way to avoid a record is to avoid a conviction—having a lawyer substantially helps—but that is not always possible. In Utah, there are other ways to avoid having the shoplifting charge appear on a background check. The most common way is a “plea in abeyance” which means the court takes a person’s plea and then holds the plea in a suspended state (i.e. “in abeyance”). If the person complies with the terms of their plea agreement, at the end of the probation period, the charges are dismissed. The probation period can be up to 18 months under Utah law, but most prosecutors prefer terms of 12 months or 6 months. After the charges are dismissed, a person can have their record expunged so that the charge no longer appears on a background check if a potential employer or anyone else looks.
For anyone accused of shoplifting in Utah, hire a lawyer immediately that has handled such cases. It is the best option to avoid a black mark on an otherwise clean history.