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New law makes helping a shoplifter the same as shoplifting

On Behalf of | May 27, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Retail theft has become more prevalent and, in many cases, more organized and violent in recent years. Some states have responded by enacting laws that allow or even mandate harsher penalties for those found guilty of participating at any level. 

Recently, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a law that penalizes those convicted of “aiding and abetting” the crime of shoplifting merchandise valued at $1,000 or greater the same as those who actually steal the item(s). For example, if one person intentionally distracts a store employee with conversation or questions or knocks over a display so that another person can steal something, that is illegal.

What does the law say?

The law no longer differentiates between the person who steals and anyone who helps them. It states that “a person convicted of shoplifting merchandise, acting in concert with, aiding, abetting, or encouraging one or more persons to commit such crime” is guilty of a felony.

The lawmaker behind the legislation compared it to federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) laws where the consequences are the same for people considered “co-conspirators” as for those directly involved in the offenses.

This new law takes effect on July 1 of this year. So does another one that increases penalties for vehicle theft from car dealers and rental and storage businesses. Both laws have their fair share of critics who say that they’re going to increase the number of incarcerated people in our state and more seriously punish those convicted of property crimes, which are often spurred by addiction and poverty.

How a person could be wrongfully charged

Proving that someone aided and abetted a shoplifter can be tricky. Shoplifting is often a crime of opportunity. If you happen to be shopping with someone who sees you talking with a clerk and uses the clerk’s distraction to slip something into their bag, you didn’t intentionally help them shoplift.

If you’re facing a shoplifting-related charge, whatever the circumstances, it’s crucial to understand the potential consequences – not just in the justice system but on your future. It’s smart to get legal guidance to present your case and protect your rights.