Shoplifting – Texas Laws

Shoplifting is a crime with complications.  Just ask Lindsay Lohan, Winona Ryder, Megan Fox,   Anthony Warrall Thompson, Maria Gomez, Jose M. and James Garza.

The first four got some bad publicity and a relatively light punishment.      But Maria Gonzalez?  Maria was deported.   She had been arrested twice for shoplifting in the span of two months in 2009, and pled guilty to two Class B Misdemeanor Theft charges (in 2009, that meant the stolen item was valued at more than $50 but less than $500).   It was the second shoplifting charge that led to her deportation.

Jose M.’s rights as a father were terminated for an incident that occurred while he was shoplifting.  His son, Baby DJH,  was born in 2010 while  Jose M. was in prison for assaulting a store guard who had stopped him on suspicion of shoplifting.   It was the latest of a long list of criminal convictions for Jose M., and the final straw for the family law judge.

James Garza’s arrest for shoplifting led to his murder conviction and death penalty sentence.    Mr. Garza was picked up for shoplifting three months after he murdered Mario Alberto Raygoza Jr. a part-time college student, for his car.

In Texas, even the penalties for a simple case of shoplifting can be harsh.   Officially called “Organized Retail Theft, ”  it is a Class B Misdemeanor  if the value of the stolen item is  under $50, a Class A Misdemeanor for   items valued more than $50 and less than $500, a State Jail Felony for items between $500 and $1500, a Second Degree Felony for items between $1500 and $20,000, and a First Degree Felony for items valued at more than $20,000.  Shoplifting with a partner will get the defendant bumped to the next level,  as will disabling a security device or fire exit alarm during the commission of the crime.

In society’s eyes, shoplifting is  not only a crime;  it’s an example of mental illness.  The American Psychiatric Association places “frequent shoplifting” in the same category as suicidal ideation and severe obsessional rituals, and gives it a GAF rating of 41-50.

The prevalence of shoplifting led “the Shopkeeper’s Privilege”.  Found in the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, it states simply “ a person who reasonably believes that another has stolen or is attempting to steal property is privileged to detain that person in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time to investigate ownership of the property.”

It is this law that gives a store security guard the right to forcibly stop a customer and demand proof of purchase of a store item.    If the customer is unwise enough to strike back, that gives rise to an assault charge.  It is not a defense that the customer was not shoplifting in the first place.

So what, exactly, is shoplifting?  Scooping up store merchandise and running out of the store without paying, absolutely.   It is also less obvious actions:   replacing the original belt on a dress with one from another dress before buying it, or taking damaged, discarded merchandise from the back store bin and not paying for it.

It’s not a crime that you want to commit.