Sarah has defending countless people accused of shoplifting through the years. The vast majority of her clients are first time offenders, who have never been in contact with the criminal justice system before. They are good people, who have made a mistake and are now facing potentially life-altering consequences.
Sarah understands the severity of these consequences. She knows that a criminal record for shoplifting can be devastating. A criminal record is highly stigmatizing. It can affect your ability to travel, to gain employment and to access various other opportunities in the future. Sarah understands this. She also understands that your personal reputation is important.
Sarah knows how to navigate the criminal justice system. She knows that, for some people, there are alternatives to getting a criminal record for shoplifting, even if they are guilty of the offence. Sarah will put a plan in place to help you through this difficult time and will work to keep your reputation untarnished.
Shoplifting is not a technical legal term that is used in Canada. What we commonly refer to as “shoplifting” charges are usually those that relate to the crimes of Theft Under $5,000 and/or Theft Over $5,000. Section 322 of the Criminal Code govern this offence. The value of the item, or items, that are alleged to have stolen will dictate which section of the Code a person will be charged under.
Penalties for Theft Under $5,000 can range from six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine to two years in jail. Penalties for Theft Over $5,000 are more severe. A person charged with this offence is liable to up to ten years in jail.
Many retail stores have an explicit policy to arrest and seek charges for anyone who is caught shoplifting on their premises. Stores like The Bay, Safeway, Sephora and Whole Foods have full-time loss prevention officers on duty. Their sole task is to investigate and arrest anyone who they find shoplifting in their stores. These are usually the people who first approach, and apprehend, a person who is accused of shoplifting. They typically tell the person that they are under arrest and ask them to escort them back to a loss prevention office, which is normally located in the store. This can be an embarrassing and humiliating experience.
After a loss prevention officer has arrested a suspected shoplifter, they will ask police to attend the scene. Upon their arrival, police will collect a report from the loss prevention officer. They will then serve the suspect with something called a Promise to Appear.
The Promise to Appear is a sheet of paper. It gives the accused person two dates – one date when they must attend the police station for fingerprinting and another date when they must attend court, commonly referred to as the First Appearance Date. Neither of these dates are optional.
The First Appearance Date is simply that. It is a court date when an accused person attends court. It is not a trial date. Most of the time, the person will receive a copy of the materials that the Crown intends to rely on in order to support the allegation of shoplifting at that time. This material is commonly referred to as the Disclosure Material, or the Particulars. The accused will then be given another court date. This allows them to review the Disclosure Material and consult with legal counsel about their options.
If an accused person cannot attend, or does not want to attend, their First Appearance Date, they can have a lawyer do it on their behalf.
If the accused person does not go to court for their First Appearance Date, and has not made arrangements for a lawyer to attend in their lieu, they can expect a warrant for their arrest to be issued.
Sometimes, a person who is charged with Theft Under $5,000 is referred to a restorative justice program. This can be done as an alternative to going through the criminal justice system. Restorative justice programs are only offered in cases where it is not contrary to the principles of justice and not inconsistent with society’s interests. They can be used to allow accused people to make amends, while deterring them, and others, from engaging in such behaviour again.
A lawyer is a very useful resource in helping an accused person in getting referred to such a program and in guiding them through it. Lawyers can make without-prejudice submissions to Crown Counsel, even prior to a persons First Appearance Date, asking that their client be referred to a restorative justice program. This is an excellent alternative to going it alone, as a successful referral to a restorative justice program often means that an accused person will not end up with a criminal record.
If you, or someone you know has been charged with shoplifting, you should speak to an experienced lawyer about your options as soon as possible.