Whether it is a misunderstanding, for necessity, or intentional, removing any product from a store without paying is a crime in Virginia. Some store personnel take it VERY seriously. They will try to scare you into confessing in a small room with a security guard or try to search your possessions. In situations like this, you need to know your rights. You need to know what to do if you are arrested for shoplifting in Virginia.
I got stopped by a store employee, what are my rights?
The first thing you should know is that you have the right to refuse inspection of any of your personal belongings. They can ask you to open your bags, but they cannot force you to. If you refuse, the most they can do is ban you from the store. Further, they cannot touch you or your belongings. If there is an object obstructing their view, they can only ask you to move it.
They may ask you to remain or ask you to step into their office. If this is the case then they likely have you on camera. No store would risk a false imprisonment lawsuit unless they had you dead to rights. You are still allowed to refuse as they cannot use force to keep you there, but they will likely call the police.
Under no circumstance should you get into a verbal or physical altercation with staff or security. It is in your best interest to either comply or decline politely. If the police are called, then they still need probable cause to search your possessions. It is likely that they will ask you if they can search before searching. They are asking for consent and you have the right to refuse consent. If they search anyway, do not resist, the place to fight the search is in the courtroom. Further, like all interactions with the police, you may ask an anytime if you are free to leave. If they say no, they will have to articulate later what probable cause they had to detain you.
I got arrested for shoplifting in Virginia, now what?
Like any arrest, you will probably have to go before a court and defend yourself if you are arrested for shoplifting in Virginia. Some stores may ask you to pay for the goods and possibly a fine right then and there. If this happens, it is best to take this option unless you are innocent. Innocent means you did not actually intend to steal the property. Did you purchase something with another thing attached or did you forgot to scan something in the self-checkout? If you are offered a deal to pay instead of getting arrested and you are innocent, then you should fight it in court.
Based on the value of the item, you may be charged with either petit larceny or grand larceny. The difference is that if the item is more than $200, you could be facing a much bigger punishment. Grand larceny is for anything larger than $200 and is a felony that can carry a punishment of up to 20 years in jail. Petit larceny is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum of one year in jail. Despite the disparity in punishment, neither of these charges should be viewed lightly. They both are serious and could potentially affect your life for a very long time. It is recommended that you retain an attorney for any charge that carries potential jail time.
What do I do now?
If you don’t have much of a record and haven’t violated any probation, you will likely be free to wait for your court date at home. When that court date comes, the Commonwealth will have to show, either from the testimony or a camera recording, that you took the item with the intent to steal it. The court will infer your intent by looking at your actions. Did you conceal the item in your bag or on your person or did you then attempt to walk out without paying for the goods? These are the things the court will consider in determining whether to not you are guilty.
If you are found guilty, the next step is the punishment. The judge is free to consider pretty much anything in determining your sentence. If it is your first offense, they will likely be easy on you. However, the higher the value the item is, the more punishment the commonwealth will try to impose. If you have an attorney, let him know all of the reasons you shouldn’t be punished such as your economic circumstances, your educational ambitions, and your work for the community.
If you are arrested for shoplifting in Virginia, you should hire a lawyer if you live near Fairfax, Loudon, and Arlington and Prince William counties. Even if you are not worried about going to jail, there could be collateral consequences such as ineligibility for naturalization. For a full explanation of collateral consequences, contact an experienced attorney.