If you are arrested for shoplifting, it can be a serious crime which can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the value of the item taken. For example, petty larceny, which is stealing an item worth less than a certain dollar amount, is a misdemeanor. Over that amount, the offense is grand theft, which is a felony. The dollar amounts that determine petty larceny or grand theft vary with time and from state to state.
Both misdemeanors and felonies may be punishable by confinement in jail or a fine. While a judge may order probation or another sentence not involving confinement, a person accused of shoplifting should not necessarily expect to avoid criminal prosecution by payment of restitution to the merchant.
A store owner or someone who works for the owner generally has the right to detain a person they suspect of shoplifting in order to investigate the possible crime. This investigation must take place in a reasonable amount of time. Generally, the owner or employee can’t look inside the person’s bag without permission, unless they actually saw the person steal something, or the item is in plain view. If this is not the case, the store would either have to let the person go or call the police to conduct any further investigation. The owner or employee can’t loudly accuse the suspect in front of other customers and must not be rude or offensive during questioning.
When the shoplifter is a child, the merchant may seek civil remedies from the parent or guardian of the child in lieu of criminal prosecution.