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Did you know that in South Carolina, you don’t actually have to steal merchandise to be charged with shoplifting?

If a store employee, security or law enforcement officer accuses you of concealing merchandise, that’s enough to have you potentially face charges — even if you hadn’t made it to the door yet!

Unfortunately, shoplifting charges can sometimes also be a result of discrimination by merchants or officers. News outlets are full of stories about individuals wrongly accused of shoplifting due to racial profiling, which is sometimes referred to as “shopping while Black.”

And if you were behaving in a suspicious manner, that will only bolster the case against you. Examples of dubious behavior include:

  • Putting an item in your handbag or tote instead of in your shopping basket
  • Hiding an item somewhere in the store so you can come back for it later
  • Messing with tags or stickers on merchandise

Even if you claim your actions were innocent, the state may bring charges against you based on the word of the retailer, its employees or law enforcement.

Shoplifting charges are serious. Depending on the monetary value of the merchandise in question, you could be facing up to 10 years in prison for a value of $10,000 or more! And if you have a history of property offenses, even if they are of a small value, you could be facing 10 years in prison. These convictions will appear on your background check and ruin your good reputation, which means you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you handle these accusations.

In the meantime, educate yourself about the basics of shoplifting charges in South Carolina. Here are answers to our clients’ commonly asked questions.

1. Is shoplifting a crime?

Yes, shoplifting is a crime according to the SC Code of Laws. It is an enumerated crime in the criminal code. An enumerated crime means that many things can be listed one by one.

2. What does “shoplifting” mean?

Shoplifting involves stealing—or trying to steal—from a merchant or retail store. Shoplifting is akin to theft, but must involve a merchant, not individual persons.

3. What is the definition of shoplifting?

In legal terms, the definition of shoplifting is when a person takes or tries to take merchandise from a store without paying full price for it. That person must have the intent to deprive the merchant of the full retail value of the item.

4. What are the shoplifting laws in SC?

South Carolina law divides shoplifting into three categories:

  1. Taking merchandise with the intent of not paying the full cost of the item
  2. Tampering with the label or price tag on merchandise
  3. Putting an item into the container of lesser priced merchandise

Furthermore, if a store employee sees you acting in an odd or suspicious way, including concealing the merchandise, he or she may assume that you’re trying to shoplift and bring a charge against you.

5. Is shoplifting the same as larceny?

No, shoplifting isn’t the same as larceny, but there are similarities between the two. Larceny, also known as theft, is stealing from an individual. With shoplifting, the victim is a store or merchant.

6. What are the consequences of shoplifting in South Carolina?

The penalties for shoplifting include jail time, a fine or both. The sentence for each case is determined by particular factors, such as the value of the item(s) and prior criminal offenses.

Ultimately, a judge decides the appropriate sentence based on the facts of the case. The judge’s decision will fall within the below guidelines.

Value of item(s)
Charge
Court
Jail Time
$2,000 or less Misdemeanor Magistrates or Municipal Court Up to 30 days
More than $2,000 but less than $10,000 Felony General Sessions Court Up to 5 years
$10,000 or more Felony General Sessions Court Up to 10 years

7. Is there a fine for shoplifting?

There may be a fine for shoplifting if the judge decides to include it in the sentence. The judge has the right to make this decision because of judicial discretion. The amount of the fine depends on the value of the items shoplifted, as shown below.

Value of item(s)
Fine Amount
$2,000 or less Up to $1,000
More than $2,000 but less than $10,000 Up to $1,000
$10,000 or more None—only jail time

8. Is shoplifting a felony?

Shoplifting can be a felony. However, some shoplifting charges are misdemeanors, as described in the chart above.

9. Can shoplifting charges be dropped?

Yes. Like other criminal charges, shoplifting charges can be dropped. Dropped charges usually occur when the defense attorney uncovers mistakes made by the police or by the merchant who initially made the accusations.

10. Does shoplifting stay on your record?

Yes, shoplifting charges will appear on your criminal record, per state law.

11. Does shoplifting appear on a background check?

Yes. Your criminal record, including shoplifting charges and convictions, appears on background checks that are requested by employers, landlords, banks and other institutions. A criminal record can negatively impact your life in many ways.

Take action to protect your future.

A criminal charge means a potential conviction is looming in your future. If you’re found guilty, your life could quickly veer off track.

You may spend significant time in jail, which can negatively impact your personal life and your work life. You might lose your job and struggle to find a new employer that’s willing to hire an ex-con.

However, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by worries and “what-ifs.” Get yourself the help you need to protect your rights.

When facing a criminal charge, speaking with an experienced criminal defense lawyer is the best step you can take for yourself.

The team at Kent Collins Law Firm is here for you, to answer your questions and to help build a strong defense against the shoplifting charges you’re facing. Call us at 803-808-0905 or fill out our online form to set up a free consultation about your case.

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