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Shoplifting may not seem like a big deal, but in Maryland it is

Going off to college provides young people with an opportunity to spread their wings and try things they never have before. Parents trust their college-age kids will make good decisions, but unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.

Depending on the friends they make, their decisions may not be what you would like, especially if it brings them to the attention of law enforcement. Something that began as a dare could end with your child calling you for bail money. This includes shoplifting, which may not sound like a serious offense, but this type of theft comes with harsh penalties here in Maryland.

What constitutes shoplifting?

The simplest definition of shoplifting is taking goods from a business. Here in Maryland, it's not necessary for someone to remove the merchandise from the store before it qualifies as theft. Simply concealing it may be enough for a shopkeeper to detain your child and call the police.

The key elements of shoplifting that prosecutors must prove for a conviction include the intention to deprive the owner of the goods and depriving the owner of the property through concealment, use or abandonment.

What defenses to shoplifting exist?

Like most other criminal offenses, defenses do exist. For shoplifting, these include the following:

  • Lack of intent
  • Coercion
  • Mistake of fact
  • Entrapment
  • Duress
  • Intoxication

If your child returned the property when approached by a store employee, that may also serve as a viable defense.

What penalties could your child face if convicted?

The penalties for this type of theft include the following:

  • Under $100 -- up to $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail
  • $100 to $1,000 -- up to $500 fine and up to 18 months in prison
  • $1,000 to $10,000 -- up to $10,000 fine and up to 10 years in prison

The penalties only increase from there if the value of the property is over $10,000 or if this is not a first offense. As you can see, the law ties the penalties to the value of the item or items stolen. Since the law treats shoplifting as any other general theft, your child could face substantial penalties if convicted.

Many people don't consider shoplifting a serious offense, but here in Maryland, there is a lot at stake. Your child's future could change forever because of this one mistake. As much as some parents would like to teach their children a lesson and let the judicial system handle it, doing so could jeopardize your child's entire future, especially if the value of the items exceeds $100.

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