You’re shopping in a store. Suddenly, a store security guard or manager comes up to you and accuses you of shoplifting or says that you have to come with them immediately.
What can you do? What should you expect to happen?
Below, we’re going to provide an overview of what happens in North Carolina after that initial shoplifting accusation, as well as what rights you have and how you can fight back to clear your name.
North Carolina Shoplifting: What the Store Can Do
The laws in North Carolina prohibit both merchandise concealment and larceny of goods. If an offender is caught shoplifting while still inside the store or on the store’s premises, a charge of Concealment of Merchandise will apply. The charge of Larceny of Goods applies if the offender leaves the store premises.
If you are accused of shoplifting while on the store premises, the store can detain you for questioning if an employee witnessed you committing acts that appeared to be shoplifting. The store must have probable cause to detain you.
When detained, you will be asked to provide your name, date of birth, and address. If the store decides to make a report to local law enforcement, the police or sheriff will conduct an investigation.
These are the elements the police will be searching for to build a case against you.
- You were seen approaching the items, then choosing them and hiding or carrying them away.
- You were seen switching price tags or item containers.
- You used items that blocked the store’s theft detection services.
- You left or attempted to leave the store without paying for the items.
The police may search you or your bags for evidence. If the police find the items in your possession or the security footage shows you taking the items, you can be arrested and charged with shoplifting.
Some stores simply request that you pay a fee, sign a confession, and never visit the store again.
Your Rights When Accused in North Carolina
You can only be detained for a reasonable period and within a reasonable setting. An experienced NC criminal attorney will be able to tell you if your detainment conditions were reasonable.
You have the right to remain silent when detained. You also have the right to request the presence of a lawyer. Until an attorney is present, keep quiet about what happened, because you may unintentionally say things that incriminate you.
A skilled lawyer will understand the best ways to defend against your charges. You may have made a simple mistake, or the store may have misunderstood your actions. An attorney will know how to make these arguments and call the store’s version of events into question in an effort to get your charges reduced or dropped.
North Carolina Penalties for Shoplifting
A first offense for Concealment of Merchandise is a Class 3 Misdemeanor, which can involve up to 20 days in jail and 24 hours of community service. Penalties increase with repeat offenses.
A Larceny of Goods charge is more complex. The penalties depend on the retail value of the items, what kind of items were taken, and how the items were taken.
A combined value of $1,000 or less is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which will result in up to 120 days in jail. Felony sentencing will automatically apply to the larceny of certain items, such as firearms.
Even a misdemeanor can have long-term negative effects, though, so be sure to fight your charges with the strongest possible defense.