During the frenzied pre-Christmas shopping period, hundreds of alleged New York shoplifters will inevitably be stopped and arrested by over-aggressive store security guards in the giant retail stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, J&R, Century 21, Barney’s, and Sak’s Fifth Avenue. Typically, those people will be taken into store security rooms and interrogated by security guards. In those meetings, store security guards often demand that the suspects – who are oftentimes confused foreign tourists – sign coerced and untrue written confessions on the false promise that they won’t be turned over to police. Then, police will arrive and take custody of the suspects. Those accused individuals without any prior arrest records will most likely be fingerprinted and processed, issued a Desk Appearance Ticket, and released upon condition that they appear in court on a later date.
Most alleged shoplifters are charged with violations of Penal Law Sections 155.25 and 165.40. The former statute, Penal Law Section 155.25, is a Class A misdemeanor called “Petit Larceny” and instructs that a person is guilty of it when he “steals property.” This crime does not carry mandatory jail time but is punishable by up to a year in prison. When the property is worth more than $1000.00, the theft becomes the felony of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree under Penal Law Section 155.30.
Those individuals that never exited the store or passed the register without paying but merely had the property concealed (or had removed the security tag from the clothing/property, for example) will likely be charged just the same, though charges of Attempted Petit Larceny (110/155.25) or Attempted Grand Larceny (110/155.30) are also possible. In fact, we know from experience representing clients that Macy’s will routinely accuse someone of shoplifting and arrest them if an individual takes property from one floor of the store to another without paying for the item before going up or down the escalator/elevator.
Shoplifters are usually also charged with a violation of Penal Law Section 165.40, which is also a Class A misdemeanor called “Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree.” A person is guilty of it when he “knowingly possesses stolen property.” Possession of more than $1000.00 of stolen property can also result in felony charges of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree under Penal Law Section 165.45.
In Manhattan, a Desk Appearance Ticket can be returnable to the criminal court located at 100 Centre Street downtown or, if the arrest occurred uptown, to the Midtown Manhattan Court. In our experience, prosecutors at the downtown court often make slightly different plea bargain offers on shoplifting cases as compared to the prosecutors uptown, though the prosecutors both work for the same office. In some cases, it may be possible for the individual to avoid having to appear personally in court if represented properly by an expert attorney, and it may also be possible to resolve the case without any permanent criminal conviction.
Nevertheless, these accusations can be quite serious and can trigger particularly damaging consequences for professionals (for example FINRA-licensed professionals, among others), non-citizens, and students aspiring to college or graduate school. If you or a loved one have been accused of shoplifting and received a Desk Appearance Ticket, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney that has successfully helped countless individuals obtain dismissals of these charges.