Even if you regularly follow federal, state and local laws, you may eventually need to take something from a merchant without paying for it. That is, due to a variety of circumstances, you may decide to shoplift. If so, you must realize that shoplifting is not always a minor offense. 

You have a fundamental right to defend yourself aggressively against criminal charges. To do so, you must understand the differences between misdemeanor and felony shoplifting. You must also recognize the potential criminal consequences that stem from both offenses. 

Shoplifting generally 

Typically, shoplifting charges arise when someone takes merchandise without paying for it. There are other instances when shoplifting may occur. For example, if you alter price tags in an attempt to pay less than the listed price, you may commit shoplifting. Also, repackaging items into a container with a lower price also likely constitutes retail theft. 

Petty and grand theft 

If the value of stolen merchandise totals between $40 and $400, shoplifting is petty theft. Depending on a few factors, prosecutors can charge petty theft as either a misdemeanor or a felony. For merchandise worth more than $400, shoplifting constitutes grand theft. While prosecutors may charge grand theft as a misdemeanor, felony charges are considerably more common. 

Penalties 

First-time offenders who engage in misdemeanor petty theft are often eligible for pretrial intervention. This program allows individuals to keep a clean record, even though they must pay restitution and complete other requirements. A conviction for grand theft may carry a jail or prison sentence along with considerable fines. 

Because shoplifting in the Sunshine State can quickly turn from a misdemeanor to a felony, you must understand your legal rights. After all, if you fail to defend yourself successfully from either minor or serious charges, you may earn a criminal history that stays with you for the rest of your life.