Shoplifting – The Law
Punishment Theft Under $5,000
Criminal Code section 322 and section 334(b)
The criminal charge of Theft Under $5,000, which includes most shoplifting offences, has no minimum punishment. If you have been charged with shoplifting, keep in mind that a criminal conviction for shoplifting can hurt your reputation as well as limit your job opportunities and earnings.
The offence of Theft is found in section 322 of the Criminal Code. The punishment is in section 334(b), which specifies that a person who is convicted of Theft Under $5000 may be jailed for up to two years. In aggravated circumstances the prosecutor will ask the court to consider sending someone to jail for shoplifting.
Store Policy – Prosecution of Shoplifters
Most retailers make it a policy to arrest and seek charges for anyone who steals from them, either by shoplifting, changing price tags or making false returns. Stores such as The Bay, Sears, Safeway, and Superstore have full-time loss prevention officers who will arrest any subject they find shoplifting. After the arrest, they call the police who will normally attend and serve the suspect a Promise to Appear. The store security officer then gives their report to the police who prepare a police file.
Release from Custody and Attending Court
A Promise to Appear is a document that compels the recipient to show up in Court at the date and time specified in order to answer to the allegation. This is NOT the trial date. This is an appearance date for the defendant or their lawyer to attend and obtain the particulars of the offense. Shoplifting charges are prosecuted in BC Provincial Court. For theft under $5000 charges, the Law Office usually attends on behalf of their client to obtain the disclosure and to ensure that the Court is aware that the accused is represented by counsel. If you are released without an Appearance Notice, you may receive a Summons either in the mail or served on you at home or at work requiring you to attend Provincial Court. If you or your lawyer do not attend, in most cases the Court will issue a warrant for your arrest.
Crown Prosecutors Approving a Charge
In British Columbia the Crown Counsel Policy Manual instructs prosecutors to approve charges when there is a substantial likelihood of successful prosecution and where prosecution is in the public interest. In most shoplifting cases the likelihood of successful prosecution is significant. The public interest is to discourage the individual from shoplifting in the future and to deter other people who would consider shoplifting. The government’s position is to prosecute shoplifters.
When it is not inconsistent with the protection of society, restorative justice provisions may be used to discourage the individual from shoplifting in the future and deter other people from shoplifting. Typically, on a formal request from your Criminal Lawyer, the prosecutor will review the shoplifting allegation to determine whether the conditions for Alternative Measures are met in the specific case.
Your lawyer can make without-prejudice submissions to persuade the prosecutor that the criteria are met to deal with your matter out of court. With the right submissions, an experienced Criminal Lawyer can persuade the prosecutor to refer their client’s matter from the court, and steer their case though the restorative justice programs, so a shoplifting charge doesn’t become a shoplifting conviction.