Massachusetts Shoplifting Crimes Targeted By New Boston Ordinance

There are any number of reasons why people shoplift. However, in my experience, as a Boston Massachusetts shoplifting lawyer, one of the most interesting reasons has to do with people who feel that life has simply let them down. They have experienced sorrow and loss – say, the loss of a job, or a relationship — and want to “take something back” from a world that they feel has somehow done them wrong. In many cases, non-professional shoplifters are experiencing depression at the time that they commit the crime of Massachusetts shoplifting. The facts back this up. According to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, and I’m paraphrasing here, people who shoplift experience a “high” that typically alleviates their feelings of anger, boredom, depression, deprivation and frustration. When most people shoplift, it’s not because they are broke and don’t have the money to pay for the item – it’s usually because the act of shoplifting, and the “high” it produces, is experienced as a lift, or a reward, that they feel they are entitled to, or need.

The NASP has also found the following statistics:

• Annually, there are in excess of $13 billion worth of goods stolen from retail establishments. That amounts to, per day, more than $35 million in shoplifted goods.
• In the USA, there exist about 27 million shoplifters (or 1 in 11 people). Since 2007, it is estimated that about 10 million people have been caught shoplifting.
• Who does shoplifting affect? The courts, law enforcement, retail stores and their security, consumers (who wind up paying more for goods), and lost revenues in sales tax in communities.

Before indulging in this form of theft, any person considering shoplifting should remember that shoplifting is taken seriously by the courts in Massachusetts, and state law provides serious penalties.

Massachusetts shoplifting laws are generally categorized as Petty Theft or Grand Theft, and viewed as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. The punishment for shoplifting? It depends on the merchandise that is shoplifted, its value – and also if the defendant has “prior offenses” – a prior criminal record. For example, if the item(s) are worth less than $100, then what typically applies is a first-offense conviction that is punishable by paying a fine of $250. What if there is a second offense, and again, the stolen merchandise is valued at less than one hundred dollars? It merits a $500 fine. However – if the value of the stolen merchandise exceeds $100, then defendants facing a first offense may very well receive the following: a sentence of up to two years in a county jail, fines that may add up to $1,000 – or payment of both the fine as well as the jail sentence. It’s not pretty. These and other penalties represent just the criminal side of the consequences that can result: Civilly, retailers in Massachusetts have the right to demand and collect a “Civil Recovery Fine,” which in theory compensates them for the added costs that responding to shoplifting brings to retailers and businesses.

Massachusetts laws dealing with shoplifting are becoming stricter. Recently, the City of Boston is weighing a new ordinance aimed at preventing shoplifters from selling stolen items to consignment shops in Boston. The proposed ordinance is designed to prevent any consignment stores from accepting stolen merchandise from shoplifters. Soon, Boston consignment store owners may be required to take photographs of their customers, along with every designer dress and luxury handbag they take into consignment. This new ordinance for stepped-up scrutiny was originally aimed at pawnbrokers, but it also appears to be ensnaring consignment shops. Secondhand stores, consignment shops and pawnbrokers, who each received a letter in April 2013 outlining the new rules, will, if the ordinance passes, have to take photos of every customer; take photos of their identification; take pictures of their merchandise; and also write a description of each item that they are selling, on an online database.

As a Dedham, Massachusetts shoplifting lawyer, it’s clear to me that this is one more sign that the police and the courts, are taking shoplifting and crimes related to shoplifting much more seriously. Those who might be inclined to engage in this type of activity should consider themselves warned.