Theft / Shoplifting Charges in Maine

Although it is the most common type of theft, Maine does not have a specific “shoplifting” law specifically for stealing something from a store.  Instead the Maine criminal code, section §351 consolidates crimes associated with stealing, including: larceny, larceny by trick, larceny by bailee, embezzlement, false pretenses, extortion, blackmail, shoplifting and receiving stolen property” under the crime of “theft”.

 

Therefore, Maine shoplifting criminal charges are brought as crimes of “Theft by Unauthorized taking” with the value of the items alleged to have been stolen, or manner in which they were stolen, establishing the class of crime. 

Because shoplifting charges usually fall under the criminal offense called “Theft by Unauthorized Taking” under $500.00, most cases are brought as class E misdemeanor crimes. The Maine law (section §353) lays out the the definition for accusing someone with theft when: The person obtains or exercises unauthorized control over the property of another with intent to deprive the other person of the property.

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When does a shoplifting or theft charge increase in class of crime? 

While most shoplifting charges are usually brought as class E misdemeanor crimes because the value is under $500.00, the charge can be increased in class and severity when the value of the property alleged to have been stolen totals above a certain dollar amount or certain facts are alleged. There are 3 value amounts, and two firearms related circumstances that cause an increase in the class of crime charged:

  • When the value of the property is more than $500 but not more than $1,000, the violation is a Class D (misdemeanor) crime; 

  • When the value of the property is more than $1,000 but not more than $10,000, the violation is a Class C (felony) crime; 

  • When the value of the property is more than $10,000, OR the property stolen is a firearm / explosive device, OR the person is armed with a dangerous weapon at the time of the offense, the violation is a Class B (felony) crime;

  • If the person is alleged to have two prior criminal convictions for requisite theft related offenses, the charge, regardless of the value of the alleged stolen items, can be charged as a class C (felony) crime. 

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How do shoplifting charges usually get brought in Maine?

Typically shoplifting charges occur when a store employee, security guard, or “loss prevention officer” accuses you of taking store items or property without paying for them. This can occur even if you don't make it out of the store with the items. Usually the person accused of stealing is alleged to have walked past the “last points of sale” (or registers) with the property without paying for it. Self checkouts and phone scanning payment errors can lead to theft charges as well. If you are accused of having concealed something with the intention of taking it out of the store without paying, the store security or employees can ask to detain you and request the police to charge you with shoplifting. Usually local law enforcement will be called by the store to “summons” or charge the person with Maine Theft By Unauthorized Taking. The summons will have the criminal court date and location of the courthouse in which you are required to appear in person. In some cases law enforcement will arrest the suspect for the theft and transport them to the police station or jail. 

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Shoplifting considerations: why do people steal? 

Shoplifting charges are a common occurrence in Maine. Surprisingly, a large portion of people charged with shoplifting did not try to steal because of financial hardship or because they were hungry. Shoplifting or minor theft cases are often a result of mental health issues caused by stress, anxiety, or post-trauma, peer pressure, the adrenaline rush and a feeling of control, or other underlying causes. These underlying issues are important to a defense and need to be explained to the district attorney or prosecuting attorney. If you are charged with shoplifting, make sure to talk to your lawyer about these things because they may be helpful in preparing your defense in court. 

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Why you should hire a lawyer if you or your child is charged with theft or shoplifting:

Because shoplifting is a crime in Maine, there is a risk of jail or fines if convicted (explained more below) but there are even more serious consequences that come from petty theft convictions coming up on a criminal record.

Most importantly, a conviction for theft—even a simple shoplifting charge, is viewed as a crime of dishonesty or “moral turpitude” which means the convicted person can be seen as an untrustworthy person simply for having the theft conviction on their criminal record. A conviction for theft can make it extremely difficult for a person to gain or keep good employment. Any employer that asks about criminal conviction on an application, or runs a background check on applicants, will be very worried about hiring an individual that has a crime of dishonestly in their past. Most will view the person as not trustworthy enough to work at their business because their record says they are a thief.

 

If you work in the medical or financial employment field, health care industry, government agencies, or are seeking higher education, you should definitely talk to a lawyer because theft charges can have serious negative career implications. A $100.00 fine for shoplifting can cost you so much more in the future by preventing you from getting a good job in the career field of your choice. 

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What are other punishments for shoplifting theft charges? 

Most theft charges that arise from shoplifting incidents fall into the under $500 value theft category, and are therefore charged as class E misdemeanors in Maine. Class E misdemeanors are the lowest level of criminal charges under Maine law, however, the impact can still be serious. Class E crimes are punishable by:

  • Up to 6 months incarceration and fines of up to $1000.00.

  • 6 months in jail and $1000.00 in fines are the maximum penalties allowed for a class E crime in Maine. In most circumstances folks facing theft crimes that arise from shoplifting should be more worried about the consequences from a criminal record than the potential for jail and high fines. 

 

If you are charged with having stolen an item, or a combination of items valued at over $500.00 the theft crime you are charged with will likely be classified as a class D misdemeanor. In Maine Class D crimes are punishable by up to 364 days incarceration (jail time) and fines of up to $2000.00.

If you are accused of having stolen an item, or a combination of items valued at over $1000.00 but not more than $10,000, or you have two prior convictions for theft related crimes, that charge will be classified as a class C felony. In Maine Class C crimes are considered felonies and are punishable by up to 5 years incarceration (jail time) and fines up to $5000.00.

Finally, if you are alleged to have stolen a firearm, or committed the theft while in possession of a dangerous weapon, the charge will rise to a class B felony with maximum penalties of up to 10 years of jail time, and a fine of $20,000.

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Final thoughts on Shoplifting charges in Maine and hiring a Maine shoplifting lawyer

There a proven steps people accused of shoplifting can take to help explain or improve the case against them. Whether it be defenses to the allegations and working to prove the charge is a mistake, or knowing what to do prior to court to give you the best chance to avoid a conviction, a Maine shoplifting attorney can help give you the peace of mind you need to turn around a scary situation. Schedule a free consultation with the Law Offices of Cameron T. Ellis today to discuss you or your family member’s Maine shoplifting case.