Private Investigations and Personal Security/Caught shoplifting in Sears, CA


Dear Andrew:

I am 16, and was caught shoplifting in Sears last week. I am not sure about the exact total dollar amount of the things, but I know it's something around $600 something. I was taking off tags, and concealing them. Sears workers had all of my actions on camera. All of things were retrieved undamaged. But when they took out most of the things, I seem to have a little or even no memories of taking them. Everything was so out of control, and things I was weird because I would never use those things. Well, they called the police, my guardian arrived. I talked to the officer, and my guardian talked to the officer. Then I was released to my guardian. But I didn't get any kind of paperwork, same for my guardian. The officer told him that we should expect a letter in the mail a few months later telling me to go to court. By the way, this is my first time doing anything like this.Clean record. Are they going to inform my school? What is the most likely charge that they are going to press on me? Is it possible for me to go to a college?(a good one?)

Thank you very much for reading and answering my questions!!
God bless you,


As I tell most people, what happens when a person is apprehended for shoplifting or other crime at a retail outlet depends entirely on the individual.  Being a minor, the punishments often are a lot less severe than, say, if you were 18 or 21.  For an estimated $600 value of stolen merchandise, underage or not, notifying the police would be worth my time, or any investigator's time to appear in court.  I hate to say it Renee, but if I were the LP detective there, I would've had my mind made up to call the police while I was conducting surveillance of your activities.

Due to your age and merchandise value, Sears more than likely declined to press civil demand charges on your guardian. Because you're 16, the payment of said damages would fall back on your guardian.  Also, many states have maximum penalty values in regards to the issuance of civil demand letters. Anything over $500 generally falls outside the range because it is assumed that criminal charges will be pressed and the associated fines will have a more financial impact than the store's fines.

Without being there, it's hard to know exactly what occurred or what's going to happen to you. However, the police, more than likely, took your identifying information (name, DOB, social, address, etc.) and ran it to see if you had any prior juvenile theft-related offenses. When it was determined you didn't, the officer probably felt releasing you to your guardian was more prudent than charging you and processing you immediately, and it goes without saying I know Sears has banned you from their stores. The letter to appear in court is called a "Summons", in legal speak. It will contain a description of the incident and all pending charges against you and demand your presence at a hearing to either acknowledge or refute the allegations made by Sears.

You're probably going to be charged with Misdemeanor Retail Theft and Receiving Stolen Property (which is also a Misdemeanor, and often accompanies Misdemeanor/Felony shoplifting charges as an added offense) or some variant of those. Hard to say for sure, because I don't live in CA, but for first offenses, they're third degree misdemeanors. Unfortunately, Sears caught you red-handed. The chances of you getting any and all charges dropped is probably remote, due to the merchandise value.  However, the court may arrange with Sears and the police to lessen the criminal complaint to Summary Retail Theft (which is the equivalent of a traffic citation), drop the Receiving Stolen Property and have you pay the Summary citation in lieu of going to trial for two misdemeanor-grade offenses.  They may also agree to community service and keep a clean slate.  Those are, in all honesty, two better alternatives than a trial with two pending misdemeanor charges. And being a minor a summary offense or community service would stay off an adult criminal record.  Would they tell your school? No. With college, it probably won't affect you too much, if at all.  But I'd be careful when I got to legal age.  Doing something like this while you're in college can cost you scholarships, grants or possibly expulsion from that particular institution.

In regards to your statement about not remembering stealing items.  You stated in the first opening dialogue that you removed the tickets, and concealed the items undamaged. When Sears approached you, and you returned and gave them the items. This very retelling, in my opinion, confirms you had constructive knowledge of what you were doing. You intended to commit a theft, and you did. I also don't like being a bad-news man, but having a clean criminal record and it being your first offense are not one in the same. For $600 worth of stolen merchandise, I honestly doubt it was your first time ever deciding to shoplift. First time getting caught? Absolutely. But everybody has their first run-in with the police in situations like this.  Sometimes, people become so routine in doing it they don't really bother concealing their activities, much less really knowing or caring what they take.

I'm not going to pass judgement. But I would pass on a word of caution to you to go to this hearing and take whatever comes of it as your last time ever doing this. Because the next time you're caught (and it will happen again, sooner or later if you continue doing it), you may not be a minor any more. And when you're an adult, there's no second chance. Offenses stay on your record permanently.  And, as somebody who's done a lot of hiring of employees, I'd rather hire somebody who has an offense for getting into a fight than somebody who has offenses for theft. Keep that in mind as an adult when it comes to jobs.

I do wish you the best. Keep me informed.  

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