How Do I Get My Shoplifting Case Dropped?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

The majority of shoplifting cases filed in the Greater Houston area are misdemeanors. However, the potential consequences of a misdemeanor theft case can be greater than many felonies due to the stigma of being convicted of theft and being branded a shoplifter. It is not difficult to imagine that if given a choice, many employers would rather hire a person accused of many other criminal offenses before hiring a person convicted of theft. 

Fortunately, there are many ways that a shoplifting case can be dismissed and erased from your record. Although there are many types of theft, this article discusses how a shoplifting case (which is a type of theft) can be dropped and removed from your record in the Greater Houston area. 

Your criminal defense attorney will first need to review the evidence. In a typical shoplifting case, this will include an offense report, surveillance video, witness statements, and sometimes photographic evidence of 911 calls. A good criminal defense attorney will focus on beating the case based on some problem with the facts first, and then explore your other options after that. A good criminal defense lawyer will have multiple backup plans to get the best possible result. 

Once the evidence is received, then a specific defense tailored to the facts of the shoplifting case can be established. Very often, the defense in a shoplifting case is that there was no intent to steal. If you are pushing a stroller through a grocery store, and an item of merchandise falls into the stroller without you realizing it, you would not be guilty of shoplifting because you did not intend to commit a theft. It is much more common than people realize that items are taken from stores due to mistakes. 

On occasion, the evidence received from the District Attorney can be used to establish that a person took a retail item unknowingly, as evidenced by the fact that no effort was made to conceal the merchandise. It is easy to imagine many scenarios where an innocent person would accidentally leave a store with merchandise, but it is important to remember that this is not shoplifting. It is the job of your criminal defense lawyer to use favorable evidence to convince the prosecutor to dismiss your case.

Typically, only the prosecutor can dismiss a shoplifting case. Even the judge cannot order the dismissal of a shoplifting case unless there are very unique circumstances (like prosecutorial misconduct). If the prosecutor does not believe your defense, and refuses to drop your case, then you can explore other options. 

One common way to get a first-time shoplifting case dismissed in the Greater Houston area is a pre-trial diversion. A pre-trial diversion is an agreement with the District Attorney’s Office that your theft case will be dismissed if you complete certain conductions. The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has a program known as the Retail Theft Diversion program, that is open to first-time shoplifting defendants who meet certain conditions. 

To be eligible for the Retail Theft Diversion program in a shoplifting case, the value of the items allegedly stolen cannot exceed $750, and a defendant cannot have any criminal convictions as an adult, or have been previously placed on probation. Additionally, there cannot have been any additional charges arising out of the incident. 

If accepted into the Harris County Retail Theft Diversion program, a defendant would need to complete a class, possibly perform some community service, and meet with a probation officer monthly. If these requirements are completed, then the case would be dismissed, and you would be eligible to get your records expunged. 

If you are outside of Houston or do not meet the requirements of the Retail Theft Diversion Program (which is currently only available in Harris County), it is still possible to negotiate a dismissal through a formal pre-trial intervention, or informally, if certain conditions are met. In the Greater Houston area, we have successfully negotiated dismissals with the completion of a variety of terms, such as the completion of community service, a donation to the food bank, or even a passed drug test. Your criminal defense attorney should be creative and have skills in negotiation to be able to obtain the best possible result in your shoplifting case. 

A far less appealing option in a shoplifting case is a deferred adjudication. A deferred adjudication is a type of probation, which if completed successfully, does not leave a final conviction on your record. Unlike a dismissal, however, a deferred adjudication cannot be completely wiped off your record. Instead, you would only be eligible to have your records sealed. 

If pre-trial diversion or deferred adjudication are not options, it is always possible to go to trial. In the Greater Houston area, trials in shoplifting cases are somewhat rare for several reasons. First, prosecutors and judges generally think it is a poor use of judicial resources (i.e., court time) to go to trial on shoplifting cases (with the truth being that many people in the legal system believe that going to trial in shoplifting cases is beneath them). Second, going to trial on a shoplifting case can be somewhat risky in the sense that a conviction would stay on your record forever. But under the right conditions, setting a shoplifting case for trial is the correct move and your criminal defense lawyer should always keep that option open. 

You should be aware that if you have any immigration issues, it is critical that you talk to an immigration attorney about your shoplifting case and any potential offers from the District Attorney’s Office to settle your case. Immigration law is tricky and even treacherous. For example, it is theoretically possible that even an admission of guilt submitted as a part of a pre-trial diversion application for a theft case could be used against you in an immigration proceeding, even if your shoplifting case is later dismissed. 

Once your case is theft case is resolved, it is important to clean up your record as best as you can. If your case is dismissed for any reason, or if you went to trial and were found not guilty, then you may be eligible to get your records expunged. An expunction is the best possible resolution of a shoplifting case as it completely removes the offense from your record. It is important to remember that after your case is dismissed if someone was to run your criminal history, it would still show an arrest for theft (although your criminal history would also reflect that the case has been dismissed). It is much better that nothing shows up at all, and that is why we strongly recommend getting your shoplifting case expunged if you are eligible. 

If you were placed on a deferred adjudication for shoplifting and successfully completed the probation and were discharged, you would be eligible to have your records sealed (also known as a non-disclosure). A non-disclosure “seals” your record and makes it so many private companies cannot see the arrest when they run a standard criminal history check. The reason a non-disclosure is not as good as an expunction in a theft case is that the arrest record will still exist – it just cannot be seen by most people. Typically, government agencies would still be able to see evidence of your shoplifting arrest. 

If you are convicted (found guilty) after a trial or after you complete regular (not deferred) probation, then you may not get your records sealed or expunged. But fortunately, an experienced criminal defense attorney can do a lot to avoid this unfortunate outcome. Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor has been defending shoplifting cases in the Greater Houston area for over ten years. He regularly obtain excellent results for his clients. Call today to schedule a free consultation.

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.