What happens if you get caught shoplifting at Costco?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Although shoplifting at Costco is relatively rare compared to other large retailers, every year multiple people are arrested in Costco stores throughout Houston and charged with theft (which is how shoplifting is charged in Texas). If you are caught shoplifting at Costco, it is critical to do everything possible to keep a conviction off of your record and get the arrest expunged. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help maximize your chances of putting a shoplifting arrest behind you. 

How common is shoplifting at Costco?

According to a recent article, shoplifting at Costco is not as big of an issue as other large retailers. This is due to several factors. First of all, it is necessary to be a member of Costco in order to shop there and you must show your membership card to get into the store. Next, the layout of the store (with only a single point of entry and exit) makes Costco stores less vulnerable to shoplifters. Finally, the nature of the merchandise sold at Costco – bulk items – are less easy to conceal. 

Nevertheless, just like other large retailers, Costco employes a loss prevention team to keep losses due to shoplifting low. If you are caught shoplifting at Costco in the Houston area, you can expect that the police will be called and that you will be charged with theft. In Texas, the severity of a shoplifting charge will depend on the value of the items you allegedly attempted to steal. 

How will a shoplifting arrest at Costco be charged?

In the Houston area, if you are accused of shoplifting under $100 you will be charged with Class “C” theft and typically be given a citation and a future court date at a municipal court. If you are charged with shoplifting over $100 then you will be arrested and taken to jail in downtown Houston, usually at the Joint Processing Center located at 700 N San Jacinto. Shoplifting of merchandise valued between $100 and $750 will be charged as a Class “B” misdemeanor while shoplifting of merchandise valued between $750 and $2500 will be charged as a Class “A” misdemeanor. Shoplifting over $2500 could be charged as a felony. Almost all shoplifting arrests in the Houston area are charged as misdemeanors due to the fact that it is rare for an item to be shoplifted that is over $2500 (usually felony theft involves other types of theft). 

If you are taken to jail after a shoplifting arrest at Costco, you will see a magistrate judge (typically within 12 hours) who will set a bond amount and set some bond conditions that must be followed. In Houston, many first-time shoplifting defendants are granted a free bond (known as a “PR” bond) and will be released without having to post a bond. 

If you must post a bond after being arrested for shoplifting there are two option – using a bail bondsman or paying the cash yourself. A bail bondsman will pay the entire amount of the bond for a fee (typically about 10%). If you pay the entire bond amount directly to the county, the entire amount will be returned to you when the case is resolved. 

How can you get a shoplifting charge dismissed?

The goal of a shoplifting arrest is to get the case dismissed. Although a jail sentence is theoretically possible after a shoplifting arrest, it is rare for a first-time shoplifting defendant to be sentenced to jail. The realistic worst-case scenario after a shoplifting arrest at Costco is ending up on probation with a theft conviction on your record. A theft conviction – even if it is just for a misdemeanor – can leave a terrible stain on a person’s record that can make it difficult to find work, housing and could impact eligibility for certain types of student loans or scholarships. Additionally, if you have been arrested for shoplifting at Costco, you can expect that you will be permanently banned from the store and that your membership will be revoked. 

An experienced criminal defense lawyer should have a clear strategy to get a shoplifting case dropped. The most common defenses for shoplifting cases involve a defendant’s state of mind. In Texas, in order for a person to be convicted of shoplifting, the person must have acted “with intent to deprive the owner of property.” That means that if a person left a store with items, but did so mistakenly, he is not guilty of shoplifting. It is the job of a criminal defense attorney to aggressively challenge all of the evidence in a shoplifting case. But even if it is clear that a person intentionally shoplifted at Costco, a criminal defense attorney may still be able to negotiate a dismissal of the charges in many cases. 

If you are arrested for shoplifting at Costco and your case is dismissed, you will be eligible to have your theft arrest expunged. In Texas, an expunction results in all records relating to the arrest being destroyed. Once an expunction of a shoplifting case is complete, you are even legally permitted to deny the existence of the arrest. 

Attorney Jose Ceja regularly helps clients throughout the Greater Houston area protect their record after a shoplifting arrest. If you have been charged with theft of shoplifting anywhere in the Greater Houston area, call Ceja Law Firm today for 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.