Utah's shoplifting law can be found under Utah Code § 76-6-602. The State refers to the crime as retail theft and defines it as knowingly taking something from a store with the intent to deprive the merchant of the item or its retail value.
When people often hear the term shoplifting, they imagine someone hiding merchandise to remove it from the store without being detected or paying for the item. Although that is one way the offense can be carried out, several types of acts can be prosecuted as retail theft in Utah.
Other ways a person can be charged with a crime include:
- Putting a different barcode or price tag on merchandise: In some cases, a person might switch or alter pricing labels to pay less for an item. For instance, they might take a high-priced item and replace its price tag with a lower-priced item. When the salesperson scans it, it rings up for lesser than the actual retail value.
- Transferring merchandise to a different container: Someone could be accused of shoplifting by putting a higher-priced item in the packaging for a lower-priced item. Therefore, it appears as if the individual is paying for the merchandise, but they are depriving the merchant of the actual retail value of the item by having the salesperson scan packaging that does not belong to the item.
- Under-ringing merchandise: A person may cause the cash register to display a price less than the actual retail value of the item they are purchasing.
How Do Stores Know If Someone Is Shoplifting?
Merchants use various methods to detect and detain shoplifters. Many have surveillance cameras positioned inside and outside of the store. These devices allow employees to review footage when they suspect that someone has unlawfully removed merchandise.
Larger stores may also employ a loss prevention officer. These individuals are familiar with shoplifting techniques and keep an eye out for customers exhibiting suspicious behavior.
Under Utah Code § 76-6-603, if a merchant has probable cause to believe that someone has or attempted to shoplift, they can detain the individual. The detention must be for a reasonable amount of time and can be done only to find out if the individual has stolen merchandise in their possession and to get and verify the person's identity. If the investigation suggests that the person has committed retail theft, the merchant may call the police.
Note that even if a merchant does not immediately detain someone suspected of shoplifting, that does not mean the individual has gotten away what the crime. They can face criminal charges at any time, so long as legal action happens within the statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations is the amount of time the State has to begin prosecution. For shoplifting, when legal action must take place depends on whether the offense is charged as a felony or a misdemeanor. In misdemeanor cases, the State has two years to prosecute; in felony cases, four years. If the State fails to prosecute within the specified limits, the case may be dismissed. The statute of limitations prevents someone from being subject to an unfair trial. Evidence can degrade or go missing after a while, which means the individual could be convicted based on weak proofs.
Is Shoplifting a Felony in Utah?
In Utah, shoplifting can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. The value of the item involved determines the level.
Shoplifting charges are levied in the same manner as those for general theft. They are as follows:
- Class B misdemeanor: Value of the merchandise is less than $500
- Class A misdemeanor: Value of the merchandise is more than $500 but less than $1,500
- Third-degree felony: Value of the merchandise is more than $1,500 but less than $5,000
- Second-degree felony: Value of the merchandise is more than $5,000
What Happens If You Get Caught Shoplifting for the First Time?
Even a first-time shoplifting offense is serious in Utah. The individual faces more than just a slap on the wrist. They can be arrested, jailed, and/or fined.
The specific penalties imposed for retail theft include:
- Class B misdemeanor:
- Up to 6 months in jail and/or
- Up to $1000 in fines
- Class A misdemeanor:
- Up to 364 days in jail and/or
- Up to $2,500 in fines
- Third-degree felony:
- Up to 5 years in prison and/or
- Up to $5,000 in fines
- Second-degree felony:
- Up to 15 years in prison and/or
- Up to $10,000 in fines
In addition to incarceration and/or fines, the individual will also have a mark on their criminal record. The conviction will show up on background checks and could make it hard for the person to qualify for specific opportunities, such as a job in retail.