SC Articles on Law
Susan Williams

20 Popular Questions About Shoplifting Charges in SC

Many shoplifting cases occur in the self checkout lane at any ordinary place, like Walmart. The store may have undercover security working in plain clothes and you don’t notice them until it is too late.

In a moment of panic, right there in the entryway of Target or American Apparel, a stream of thoughts flash through your mind…

What are my rights?

Does a Security Guard (who is not a law enforcement officer) have to read you your Miranda Rights?

They said they have me on camera, are they just telling me this?

You are led into a break room to meet with the store security guard, who believes he/she has just captured America’s Most Wanted. The Guard tells you to “come clean” and tell the truth about what just happened.

Your palms are sweaty and you are gasping for air you are so nervous. You explain what you did, and now you are under arrest! The Guard mumbles something about the value of the item being over fifty dollars.

Does an item have to cost more than $50 for you to be charged with Shoplifting?

Can’t the Guard cut me some slack for telling the truth and coming clean?

If you have been arrested for shoplifting, you may have some questions about what the State must prove for you to be convicted of shoplifting in SC. Can I be arrested even though I didn’t actually make it out the front door of the store? Can I be charged even if the store isn’t out of any money because the merchandise was returned to the store?

Keep reading to find out the answer to these and many other common questions about shoplifting charges in South Carolina.

Popular Questions About Shoplifting

1. What are the shoplifting laws in SC?

Shoplifting has a very broad definition in South Carolina.

Shoplifting includes:

  • Moving an item that is for sale from one place in the store to another place in the store and you had the intention of shoplifting. (You don’t have to make it out out of the store with the item.)
  • Changing the price tag - Altering or removing labels on an item for sale then trying to purchase the items at less than full price. Note that you don’t have to actually go through with the sale and make it out the front door of the store with the item(s). If you switch the price tags on purpose and the store can prove this, you can be charged with shoplifting.
  • Moving stuff that’s not on sale to a “sale” container - Transferring an item for sale from the container it is displayed into another container. This is yet another example of how you can be charged with shoplifting without ever even making it out the store’s front sliding doors.
  • Intent of Shoplifting - Coupled with one of the above, the Store (via the prosecution/ State) must be able to prove/ infer that person accused of shoplifting had the specific intent to shoplift.

2. What are the penalties for shoplifting in SC?

There are 3 “levels” of shoplifting charges in South Carolina. Which level you are charged at depends on the value of the items that were stolen/attempted stolen. Generally, the more expensive the items, the harsher the penalties.

Charge: Shoplifting or Attempted Shoplifting
Classification:
Penalty:
Merchandise valued at $2,000 or less (first offense) Misdemeanor 0-30 days in jail AND/OR $0-1,000 fine
Merchandise valued at more than $2,000, but less than $10,000 (first offense) Misdemeanor 0-5 years in jail AND/OR $0-1,000 fine
Merchandise valued at $10,000 or more (first offense) Felony 0-10 years in jail

3. Which court are SC shoplifting charges prosecuted in?

The court where shoplifting charges are prosecuted depends on:

Have you been prosecuted, arrested or convicted of shoplifting in the last 10 years?

  • Depending on how many times you have been convicted for shoplifting in the past, your case could end up in General Sessions Court (‘big court”) because of the property enhancement laws.

What is the merchandise you tried to steal worth?

  • If the stolen goods are worth $2,000 or less, you will be in Magistrate, Municipal or Summary Court. These courts are traffic courts and carry no more than a 30 day jail sentence.
  • If the goods are worth more than $2,000, you will be in General Sessions Court (“big court”). Note that you can be charged with a misdemeanor and still be in General Sessions Court.

4. Is shoplifting the same thing as larceny?

No. Shoplifting occurs in a Retail Store. Larceny does not have this requirement. Larceny means you took something or carried it away from its rightful place. The “something” that you took away can be goods, money, property or something that belongs to someone else that has monetary value.

To be guilty of larceny the state must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to permanently keep what you took as your own. The State must prove you converted the property to your own use and you did so without the owner’s permission. The accused has the burden of proof in Court of explaining why or how they ended up with the property in their possession.

Larceny and Shoplifting are both misdemeanors. If you are convicted of larceny, you face possibly jail time of up to 30 days and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

5. Can I get charged with shoplifting if I hid something but never actually took it from the store?

Absolutely. You don’t have to have actually stolen the item to be charged and convicted of shoplifting.

6. Is shoplifting a ticket?

Yes, it can be written on a blue ticket if this is your first shoplifting or property crime offense and the goods are worth less than $2,000. If the goods are worth more than $2,000, you will receive an arrest warrant. The arrest warrant will likely be for Grand Larceny and will be in General Sessions Court.

7. Is shoplifting classified as a misdemeanor?

Yes. Please see the above chart.

8. When does shoplifting become a felony?

See the above chart for the answer to this question.

9. Will I go to jail if convicted of shoplifting?

You are facing a possible jail sentence of up to 30 days in jail if you are convicted of shoplifting of any amount. Do not assume that you will get a “slap on the wrist” or just pay the fine. Do not assume that because this is your first time caught shoplifting that you will do community service. You are facing jail time.

Just because the items were returned to the store does not mean you will not be convicted of shoplifting. Many believe that since they didn’t actually leave the store they aren’t guilty of shoplifting. This is not necessarily true.

10. Is there a fine for shoplifting?

Yes. The fine is up to $1,000. This is not a mandatory fine, but it is a possibility if you are convicted (as is jail time up to 30 days).

11. Can I pay the store for the amount of the goods taken and get my shoplifting charge dropped?

Possibly, but do not assume this is the case. That option would be a privilege, and not a right. This decision is not up to you; it is up to the store, the prosecuting attorney, or law enforcement officer.

12. I got a letter from Walmart saying I owe them money even though I didn’t take anything from Walmart. The letter looks serious. What does this letter mean?

In SC retail stores who are victims of shoplifting can chose two ways to go about their case: a civil case or a criminal case. The criminal part of the case is the ticket or warrant you received. The civil part of the case is the store “suing” you personally for the time spent investigating the crime, possible money that is owed to the store, etc. A criminal defense lawyer can explain how to handle this letter.

13. Does shoplifting go on your record?

Yes. If you are convicted of shoplifting, it goes on your criminal record, even if it is your “first time.” It is considered a crime of dishonesty so it can follow you for the rest of your life, interfering with job applications, college scholarships, and make you look like someone that can’t be trusted.

Keep in mind that “just paying the fine” or “getting a time served sentence” is the same as a “guilty” on your criminal record. There is no way to explain what is printed in black and white on your criminal record. Once a potential employer sees this, you may be skipped over for a particular job.

14. Will shoplifting show up on a background check?

Yes. If you are convicted of shoplifting, it will show up on a criminal background check.

15. Can shoplifting charges be dropped?

Possibly, yes. You may want to discuss your options and defenses with a criminal defense attorney. The State/Store has the burden of proving that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. You do not have the burden of proving your innocence.

When I am hired in a shoplifting case, I request the evidence in my client’s case from the State (prosecuting agent, law enforcement, etc.). Once I have an opportunity to review all available evidence, I advise my client on how to proceed. The available evidence can include store audio/video recordings, police report, witness statements, etc.

16. Can shoplifting be expunged?

Yes, if you qualify under the current expungement laws. Click here to learn more about the expungement process in SC.

17. How much does a shoplifting lawyer cost?

The cost for a private lawyer (a lawyer that is not a public defender) varies. Rates vary depending on the location of the shoplifting, age of client, criminal history of client, and facts.

18. My Court date is very soon. Do I have time to get a lawyer?

If you hire an attorney prior to your court date, your attorney can request a continuance. The Court determines whether this request is granted. A request for a jury trial will delay your case and is a Constitutional right you have.

19. I wasn’t read my Miranda Rights. Is my case dropped?

Not necessarily. Click here to learn more about your Miranda Rights.

20. I confessed to taking the items. Is there still a chance this can go away?

Sometimes. If your Miranda Rights were violated your confession may get thrown out. Click here to learn more about these rights.

If you are facing shoplifting charges in SC and have questions about your case, consider contacting an attorney. Having a defense attorney by your side through this process could make all the difference.

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Copyright 2019 Susan E. Williams, Summerville, SC, All Rights Reserved.