Shoplifting is a form of theft, which can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the value of the stolen property. In Arizona, the statute of limitations is 1 year for misdemeanor theft and 7 years for felony theft. Considering that most shoplifting cases are classified as a misdemeanor, that means you can face charges for shoplifting up to 1 year after committing the crime.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony Theft
ARS 13-02 specifically identifies 6 situations that may result in charges of theft:
- Knowingly committing fraud as a means to obtain another party’s property or services
- Knowingly obtaining compensable goods or services without payment
- Knowingly possessing another party’s property with the intent to deprive them of their property
- Knowingly possessing lost property without making a reasonable attempt to locate the owner
- Knowingly possessing stolen property
- Knowingly using another party’s property or services for an unauthorized period of time
In most cases, the difference between misdemeanor and felony theft is the dollar value of the stolen property or services. Generally speaking, cases with $1,000 or less in stolen property are classified as a misdemeanor, while cases with more than $1,000 in stolen goods are classified as a felony.
That said, there are exceptions to the dollar-value rule. For example, when the stolen item is a firearm or an animal, the crime qualifies for a felony charge regardless of the dollar value. The presence of other accompanying charges such as assault and battery can also impact the classification and severity of the charges.
Penalties For Shoplifting in Arizona
Arizona law provides six criminal classifications for theft:
- Class 1 misdemeanor theft – the lowest classification for theft (sometimes referred to as petty theft) carries a maximum of six months’ jail time, up to $2,500 in fines, and restitution (i.e. returning the stolen goods or paying for the associated loss).
- Class 6 felony theft – for cases with $1,000 – $2,000 in stolen property or services, the punishment may include 4 – 24 months in prison and fines of up to $150,000.
- Class 5 felony theft – for cases with $2,000 – $3,000 in stolen property or services, the punishment may include 6 – 30 months in prison and fines of up to $150,000.
- Class 4 felony theft – for cases with $3,000 – $4,000 in stolen property or services, or for any theft cases that involve a vehicle engine or transmission (the dollar value is irrelevant), the punishment may include 1 – 3.75 years in prison and fines of up to $150,000.
- Class 3 felony theft – for cases with $4,000 – $25,000 in stolen property or services, the punishment may include 2 – 8.5 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.
- Class 2 felony theft – for cases with $25,000 or more in stolen property or services, the punishment may include 3 – 12.5 years in prison and fines of up to $150,000.
Keep in mind that these sentences and dollar values serve as guidelines for sentencing. With the assistance of an experienced criminal law attorney, you may be able to negotiate a lower classification (e.g. a class 1 misdemeanor even though the value was over $1,000). If a lower classification isn’t possible, a good attorney should at least be able to work with the prosecution and the judge to minimize your sentence.
How Retailers Prosecute for Shoplifting
Shoplifting is often prosecuted without any police involvement. You don’t need to be arrested or detained on-site in order to be charged, and it can take several weeks or months for the retailer to file charges against you.
The reason it takes weeks or months to file charges is often due to the constraints of video surveillance. Even if the store catches you on camera, or if a security guard sees something suspicious and decides to check the surveillance footage, it may take a while for the store to get a positive ID from the video tape. Once the store identifies you, they will usually check for other occurrences by combing their archives with facial recognition software to identify other times when you were in the store.
In the absence of video surveillance, retailers can still file charges based on statements from eyewitnesses. These cases are less common due to a lack of physical evidence, but they’re certainly possible, especially when the value of the stolen goods is high.
In either case—whether the store has eyewitness statements, video surveillance, or both—the retailer will present their evidence to the local police department when they are ready to file charges. The police will then refer the case to a prosecutor, who will work with the court to issue a Notice to Appear to the alleged shoplifter. Felony theft cases may necessitate an arrest warrant, but retailers and prosecutors rarely go through the hassle of obtaining a criminal arrest warrant based on probably cause.
When you receive a Notice to Appear for shoplifting, you should speak with a criminal law attorney as soon as possible. Failure to appear in court in a timely manner may result in the court issuing a bench warrant, which can lead to your arrest and seriously complicate your case.
Is a Misdemeanor Shoplifter Safe After The 1-Year Statute of Limitations?
If you have shoplifted and you are concerned about prosecution, you should speak with a criminal law attorney to determine the risk of charges being filed against you and the best course of action. You may be protected by the statute of limitations if charges aren’t filed within 1 year, but you’d need to discuss the specifics of your case with an attorney to determine that with certainty.
Keep in mind, however, that even if you’re “safe” from prosecution, you are likely on the store’s radar for future incidents. The retailer may be willing to forgive a trivial amount of shoplifted goods or services, but if you return to the store and shoplift again, they may be compelled to take action. Retailers often share information about shoplifters with other stores, too, so your picture and identity may have been circulated to other stores in the area.