According to data compiled by Statistic Brain in 2016, 25% of shoplifters are kids, 55% of shoplifters say they began stealing in their teens, and 89% of kids say they know others who shoplift. The problem is pervasive, but it may not hit home until you receive the call saying your child is in custody.
In the eyes of a minor, shoplifting may seem like a minor infraction. The illegal act may have started as a dare, a whim, or an underlying compulsion. When caught, however, one seemingly minor act of shoplifting can begin a ripple of consequences. Charges and a subsequent conviction may prevent a child from finding gainful employment, getting accepted into college, and building a line of credit.
Many things can happen after you receive the call. If the store does not contact the police, the owner may work through the issue with a parent. After the store contacts the police, the legal process takes over. Pleading with a store manager or owner may not help you or your child.
If your child is younger than 18, the state juvenile justice system or a municipal court will likely handle the matter. Criminal consequences for theft in Texas reflect the value of the goods stolen. For example, if your child stole something under $50 in value, the state could file Class C misdemeanor charges. If convicted under normal circumstances, the immediate penalty is a fine of no more than $500
As the value of the goods stolen increases, so do the consequences. If a child steals a sound system worth $1,700, for example, prosecutors could file state jail felony charges. In more serious cases, your child could face time in juvenile detention, fines, probation, and other immediate consequences.
While minor infractions may seem as simple as paying off a traffic citation, the situation could be more serious. A misdemeanor conviction could go on the child’s permanent record – all for a $10 bracelet. Depending on the situation, the court may offer a minor a deferred adjudication term. In deferred adjudication deals, a defendant agrees to meet the court’s terms of probation in exchange for case dismissal and a sealed record.
Sometimes stores send out payment demand letters. They may demand you or your child immediately to pay $100 or more. Until a civil court forces you to pay damages for the incident, you gain nothing by meeting the store’s demands. Most of the time, the store will simply stop sending the letters rather than pursue litigation.
Discuss your legal liability with an attorney about payment demand notices and civil actions arising from the case. Under civil parental liability laws, you may face financial liability for the actions of your child.
As a parent or guardian, you will need to appear in court with your child. Some parents are tempted to show their children tough love and force them to accept whatever consequences the court doles out. While some tough love may be in order, the full consequences of the law may do more to harm a child than to teach a lesson.
We recommend speaking to a defense attorney who demonstrates experience working on juvenile matters. Whether your child stole a low-value item on a dare or faces much more serious consequences, an attorney can advocate for alternative sentencing programs, reduced charges, or another alternative. These gentler consequences and parental guidance often do more to deter children from future crimes than allowing the system to pursue the full extent of the law.
In addition to working through legal consequences, consider why your child felt compelled to steal. Some minors will learn the lesson as soon as someone catches them. For others, the act is a symptom of a deeper problem. Working through difficulties now may stop your child from repeating the offense later.