It is fairly common for store security at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Century 21 or any other New York City department store in Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens, to “jump the gun” when apprehending or detaining an individual for shoplifting. Often time, an arrested shoplifter in New York is accused of placing items in his or her bag or tote as the basis of a shoplifting arrest despite there being no criminal intent on the part of the accused. While prosecutors may charge these people with the “shoplifting crimes” of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree (NY PL 165.40) or Petit Larceny (NY PL 155.25), a little bit of investigation on the front end may have clearly established an arrest was unwarranted. Sadly, although any defendant has a right to a criminal attorney or, in this case, a New York City shoplifting lawyer, by the time an accused speaks to their counsel they have already been printed and processed with a shoplifting Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT). Unfortunately, the department store or the police have little concern at this juncture that a false allegation can ruin your professional career or jeopardize your immigration status.
As a preliminary matter, most NYC department stores do not give their patrons carts or reusable totes to place their potential purchases while shopping. Therefore, when one’s hands are full, one has little choice but to put the items in a bag that one brought to the store whether it be a pocketbook, canvas bag or even the bottom of a stroller. Also, because most department stores in New York are on multiple floors, its is far from unreasonable that a patron would go up and down elevators, escalators or stairs while perusing potential purchases. In fact, during any outing, numerous cash registers will be passed as a shopper continues to decide what to purchase or try on. Sadly, this innocent behavior can not just lead to an arrest by a rude or bullying store security officer, but the police will arrest you without investigating the validity of the store employee’s assertion. It will be up to you and your criminal defense lawyer to recreate what truly happened.
Having addressed the common circumstance where shoppers are arrested, both fairly and falsely, I have some bad news. While there are many elements to an arrest and your arrest for PL 155.25 or PL 165.40 may be baseless, you can be arrested without ever stepping foot out of a store. That’s right. I’ll say that again. Whether you are in a big department store in New York City or some little shop in White Plains or Yonkers, you can be arrested for shoplifting even if you never exited the store. Any attorney who has real experience in shoplifting defense can direct you to People v. Olivo, 52 N.Y.2d 309 (1981). There, the Court of Appeals set certain standards as to when such an arrest can occur. Just as in People v. McDonald, 91 A.D.3d 515 (1st Dept. 2012), where the defendants placed numerous video games in their backpacks, went past cash registers and approached the exit, if the evidence reasonably (the real guidelines are probable cause to arrest and beyond a reasonable doubt to convict), establishes you “exercise[d] dominion and control wholly inconsistent with the continued rights of the owner, and the other elements of the crime are present, a larceny has occurred.” Conduct need not be as egregious as in People v. Stapkowitz, 40 A.D.3d 435 (1st Dept. 2007) where court convicted a defendant of NY shoplifting crimes when he stood on a table to remove a chandelier, advise store staff he had paid for it already (which he had not), walked down multiple floors and fled after he was approached by security prior to leaving the establishment. Moving up and down levels, past registers and “hiding” clothes or other items in a bag may be enough.
Remember, store security officers often wrongfully or falsely detain shoppers. Maybe they honestly believe a shoplifting occurred or maybe they are incentivized to apprehend people and scare them into forking over $500 civil judgments. Compounding matters, at the time of an arrest for either NY PL 165.40 or NY PL 155.25, the police often don’t give your statement as much clout or review video surveillance. As a result, after you have been arrested, you and your attorney must identify your defense, put that defense into motion and achieve the vindication you deserve or pursue the best possible outcome.
Any arrest is scary, but a false arrest is even more concerning. Arm yourself with education and learn about these crimes and the criminal process. To find out more about New York shoplifting laws or any other theft and larceny crime, follow the links found throughout this blog entry or review the websites and blogs listed below. Between the websites and blog entries you will find ample information on criminal statutes, collateral consequences, legal decisions and cases covered in the local news that relate to shoplifting arrests and allegations.
Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense firm located in New York City. Established by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC have successfully represented clients in felony and misdemeanor shoplifting investigations and arrests in the New York City area.