Shoplifting in Arkansas
In Arkansas, shoplifting is formally charged as Theft of Property, under Ark. Code Ann. § 5-36-103. It occurs when a person “knowingly takes or exercises unauthorized control over the property of another person with the purpose of depriving the owner of the property.” Contrary to popular belief, a shoplifter need not actually leave the store with the goods, due to the fact that Arkansas has a separate law on the books, sometimes called the “Shoplifter Presumption” which says that merely knowingly concealing unpurchased merchandise offered for sale by a store can be enough to get you arrested. Oftentimes the loss prevention officer will be waiting by the door, so that the moment the suspected shoplifter walks past the last point of sale or register, they can detain the suspected shoplifter, thereby nullifying the defense of “I was about to pay for it.” It should also be noted that the parents of children that are suspected of shoplifting, or even other adults that are present in the group when one person is suspected of shoplifting can be arrested as potential accomplices.
The severity of punishment often hinges on the value of the goods stolen. The least severe charge for theft of property in Arkansas is a Class ‘A’ Misdemeanor. Class A misdemeanor theft of property arises where the value of the stolen goods is $1,000 or less, and is punishable by up to 1 year imprisonment, a fine up to $2,500, and restitution in the amount determined by the court, or by agreement between the prosecution and defense counsel. Theft of property over $1,000 but less than $5,000 is a Class D Felony, which is punishable by up to 6 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines, plus restitution. If you are accused of stealing property valued in excess of $5,000, it probably isn’t shoplifting, and is beyond the scope of this article.
In addition to these potential criminal punishments, sometimes stores will attempt to pursue shoplifters civilly as well. Often defendants may receive a letter in the mail from an out of state law firm citing Ark. Code Ann. § 16-122-101 – 103, and demanding that they contact the law firm via toll-free number or website and pay up to $200 in civil “fines.” If you have received one of these letters, you should show it to your defense attorney, so that it can be dealt with appropriately, based upon the facts and circumstances of your case.
Last but not least, as I have written elsewhere in my blog, it goes without saying that having a conviction for theft of property on your criminal history can be a serious burden when it comes time to apply for jobs, housing, loans, etc. If you were once young and foolish and picked up a shoplifting charge, you owe it to yourself to speak with an experienced attorney about the possibility of sealing your record. One mistake does not define who you are as a person, and shouldn’t haunt you for the rest of your life.