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How is Shoplifting Defined in Massachusetts?

Boston is the largest city in New England with a relatively low and steadily decreasing crime rate. However, earlier in 2013, the Boston Globe reported that several malls were installing security cameras in common areas in order to get tough on shoplifting and other crimes. In Massachusetts, “shoplifting” involves a broad range of actions in which a person takes an item without paying for it. Defined in Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266 Section 30A, shoplifting includes stealing a shopping cart, switching a price tag or label, and eating food while shopping. Even hiding goods with the intent to steal them later is considered shoplifting in Massachusetts.

Shoplifting can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the value of the item taken and the criminal record of the person accused. The cutoff is $100. If you shoplift items less than $100, a fine of $250 for a first offense and $500 for a second may be levied. However, once you cross the threshold, shoplifting is much more serious, carrying potential jail time of 2 ½ years and a $1000 fine. Shoplifting is its own crime in Massachusetts, but if the value of the stolen item is over $100, it can be charged as larceny instead.

If you have been charged with shoplifting, an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney can try to negotiate with the prosecutor, get the charges dropped, or obtain a favorable outcome at trial, depending upon your particular circumstances.

When is Shoplifting a Felony?

The act of shoplifting may be charged as felony larceny in certain instances. If you shoplift goods worth between $100-249, you can be charged with misdemeanor larceny. But felony larceny may be charged if you shoplift goods believed to be worth more than $250.

Like other elements of the crime, the value of the goods must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. Prosecutors may use surveillance videos, business records, and receipts to show the value of the item stolen and prove the other elements of the shoplifting charge.

It is common to consider shoplifting a relatively minor crime, and for defendants to want to plead guilty immediately just to get the humiliation of the experience out of the way. However, once you are convicted one time, the penalties for subsequent offenses may increase exponentially.

Sometimes a district attorney will offer to fine a defendant a minor amount in order to get a guilty plea on a first or second offense. This builds the defendant’s criminal record. If he or she gets caught a third time (or any time after that), these earlier guilty pleas may have a severe and adverse impact on the outcome of a trial. Just as importantly, in some cases, a shoplifting conviction may limit your employment opportunities.

Therefore, if you are charged with any shoplifting crime—whether it is for something as small in value as a box of nails or something as high in value as a Louis Vuitton handbag, it behooves you to contact an experienced attorney to figure out a good defense strategy.

How to Defend a Shoplifting Charge

A defense attorney with experience defending against shoplifting charges can work to preserve favorable evidence, suppress negative evidence, and use his or her own skills and knowledge to get the best outcome. That attorney may also be able to challenge the value of the items in instances where the value is in question and the prosecutor has chosen to charge a more serious crime than necessary. A knowledgeable defense attorney can also challenge a shoplifting charge by arguing a lack of probable cause to detain you or search your bags.

If you are charged with shoplifting, increase your chances of a positive case outcome by consulting an experienced Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer. Contact us at 617-263-6800 or via our online form.

Case Results » Shoplifting
  • Shoplifting Charges Against Retiree do not Issue After Clerk Magistrate Hearing

    The defendant is retired. She recently came upon difficult times after her financial advisor stole all of her retirement money. In an act of desperation, she resorted to stealing small amounts of food at local stores so that she could eat. She got caught and was summonsed for a clerk magistrate hearing charging her with shoplifting by asportation in violation of G.L. c. 266 section 30. Our office represented her and convinced the clerk magistrate not to issue a complaint. All charges were dismissed. 

    Read More in Theft Crimes

  • Charges of Shoplifting Against 3 College Students do not Issue After Clerk Magistrate Hearing

    In October of 2022 loss prevention at a large suburban outlet complex observed suspicious activity involving three young males. The men were seen going into several stores, one at a time, carrying bags that were seemingly full of merchandise. Each time the men entered a story they left without going through a register. Their bags appeared larger after exiting the stores. Loss prevention officers followed them into one store and saw them putting items in their bags and leaving without paying. The individuals were stopped, questioned and detained once it was learned that they had stolen from several stores in the complex. They were all given summonses for a clerk magistrate hearing for shoplifting charges in violation of G.L. c. 266 section 30A. Today we appeared on behalf of all of the men and convinced the magistrate to dismiss the complaint. 

    Read More in Shoplifting

  • Felony Charges of Larceny Over $1,200 Against Non-Citizen Dismissed Prior to Arraignment

    Our client is a non-citizen working in the United States pursuant to a visa. In September of this year she was caught shoplifting from a store in a mall. The value of the property taken exceeded $1,200.00 making the crime a felony in Massachusetts. The woman was charged with larceny over $1,200.00 in violation of G.L. c. 266 section 30. Her arraignment was scheduled for February of next year. Rather than wait for the arraignment and leave our client with a pcf number we negotiated a deal with the district attorney's office. Provided that our client perform 16 hours of community service the case would be dismissed prior to arraignment. She completed the community service and we advanced the case today. All charges were dismissed prior to arraignment. 

    Read More in Shoplifting

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