December 9, 2023
Imagine this: your great aunt from out-of-town buys you a sweatshirt for Christmas from a local retailer – local to her. Unfortunately, it’s hideous, and you’d really like to return it, but you can’t because they don’t have a store in your area. By which we mean the closest store is several states away.
Then your spouse has an idea: return the sweater to your local department store, which carries the same item, and get credit there. It’s brilliant!
So, you give it a try, but the clerk gives you an odd look, then disappears from the customer service center. It’s not long before a burly guy in a security uniform comes out and tells you you’re being accused of shoplifting.
What? How is this possible? You didn’t steal anything!
Except that under Colorado shoplifting laws, there are a number of acts that fall under the umbrella of retail theft, one of which is return scams. What’s that? Well, one form is returning a product to a store where you didn’t buy it and attempting to get cash or store credit.
Surprised? So are many other Coloradans every year who are charged with shoplifting for similar acts. In fact, it’s completely possible that someone could commit the crime of shoplifting completely inadvertently.
This is why we decided to put together a guide of what – exactly – constitutes shoplifting under Colorado law. Simply knowing these laws can save you a world of trouble.
Even if you are already facing shoplifting charges, there are a number of potential defenses and plea bargaining programs that might help your case – we’ll provide some information on those as well.
What Acts Constitute Shoplifting in Colorado?
According to Colorado law, shoplifting includes not only theft of items, but also a number of other criminal behaviors shoplifters use to avoid paying for merchandise, or to pay less than the retail price. These include:
Taking away merchandise without paying the full retail price. This covers the act that most people think of when they think about shoplifting. Attempting to hide merchandise in your purse, leaving it in your cart, or simply walking out without paying for it is considered shoplifting, or retail theft.
Tampering with price tags or other labels. Sometimes, shoplifters will attempt to pay less than an item’s retail price by switching the price tag of a higher priced item with that of a lower priced item. This is also considered retail theft.
Switching merchandise from one container to another. Attempting to change the packaging of merchandise is another trick that shoplifters use to sneak merchandise past employees, or to pay less than the item is worth. If you are caught switching containers – even if you never make it to the register – you could still face shoplifting charges.
Defeating anti-theft devices. Tampering with anti-theft devices such as magnetic tags and detectors is also a criminal act, and it falls under the offense of shoplifting.
Possession of a theft detection shielding device. Possessing a theft detecting deactivating device with the intent to use it, or knowledge that someone else plans to use it, constitutes shoplifting in Colorado.
Return scams. Every year, retailers lose millions on return fraud, which occurs when the defendant attempts to return items that were not purchased at that store, or in some cases, attempts to return an item after it has been worn or used.
Under Colorado law this could constitute shoplifting or return fraud, depending on the circumstances of the alleged offense.
Shoplifting Defenses Colorado Lawyers Use Successfully
If you are facing Colorado shoplifting charges, you can expect serious consequences and a concentrated effort by the prosecutor to get you to admit your guilt. All is not lost, though. Depending on the specifics of your case, a number of defense strategies may be able to help:
- Discrediting witness testimony. Sometimes store security or other witnesses may think that they observed you attempting to shoplift, but they might not be sure. Depending on the specifics of your case, it could be possible to discredit witness statements.
- Lack of probable cause. If you were illegally detained or searched without probable cause, it may be possible to get your case thrown out.
- Lack of evidence. The prosecution has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the offense of shoplifting. If no hard evidence is available, this is very hard to prove.
- Mental illness: Sometimes psychiatric conditions compel people to shoplift compulsively. If you have a history of mental illness, this may be a potential shoplifting defense strategy.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you evaluate your options here.
Why Coloradans Need to Know about Pretrial Diversion Programs
Another possible route to go when hit with a shoplifting charge is to look into pretrial diversion programs. These programs are designed to rehabilitate low-level offenders rather than imposing harsh criminal penalties that can be detrimental to their futures as productive members of society.
If you are a first-time offender, you may be eligible for one of these programs, which generally include probation, counseling, community service, and restitution. Successful completion of a diversion program can get your charges dismissed.
Of course, the best defense is to not to anything that might possibly be construed as shoplifting. To do that, you have to be aware of the law, and of your options should you be hit with shoplifting charges.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.