What happens if you get caught shoplifting at Whole Foods?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Shoplifting arrests are extremely common in Harris County. The majority of shoplifting cases (which is legally considered theft under Texas law) are filed as misdemeanors and a large percentage of cases come from large retailers. But what happens when you get caught shoplifting at a high-end grocery store like Whole Foods? This article discusses what happens if you get caught shoplifting at Whole Foods. 

Does Whole Foods prosecute shoplifting cases?

Large retailers spend millions of dollars a year on loss prevention and Whole Foods also has security personnel on staff that is trained to prevent shoplifting. However, there is reason to believe that Whole Foods does not prosecute shoplifting cases as aggressively as other large retailers. 

According to an article from 2021, Whole Foods employees are specifically trained not to stop shoplifters and rather than get the police involved, they ban customers for life who have been accused of stealing.  For example, Whole Foods banned a woman for life who was accused of shoplifting but said that she accidentally left the store with a bottle of vitamins. The ban remained in effect until she appealed her case to the corporation. 

In Houston, there is no data on specifically how often Whole Foods prosecutes shoplifting cases. Criminal defense attorneys who defend shoplifting cases are aware that theft charges are very rare at Whole Foods particularly compared to stores like Wal-Mart. But even if Whole Foods is less likely to press charges, it is important to remember that a person can be charged with shoplifting regardless of the wishes of the alleged victim. In other words, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office can go forward with a charge regardless of Whole Foods’ policy. 

How would shoplifting at Whole Foods be charged?

As noted above, in Texas shoplifting is considered to be a form of theft. Under Texas Penal Code 31.03, theft can range in severity based on the value of the items involved. The potential punishment for theft in Texas is as follows:

  • Theft is a Class C Misdemeanor if the value of the property stolen is less than $100.
  • Theft is a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the property stolen is $100 or more but less than $750.
  • Theft is a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the property stolen is $750 or more but less than $5,500.
  • Theft is a state jail felony if the value of the property stolen is $1,500 or more but less than $20,000.

It would be very rare for a shoplifting case from Whole Foods – or any supermarket – to lead to a felony charge due to the fact that it would be nearly impossible to steal $1500 or more of groceries. 

It is also important to understand that the theft statute prohibits more than simply taking items from a store without paying. Under the Texas theft statute, what is prohibited is the unlawful “appropriation” of goods, with the intent to deprive the owner of property. That means that if a person acts with the intent to steal, he could be charged with shoplifting by changing tags on an item, or concealing an item, even if he has not left the store. 

What happens if you get arrested for shoplifting at Whole Foods in Houston?

If you are detained at Whole Foods for shoplifting and the police arrive, whether you go to jail or not will typically depend on the value of the items allegedly stolen. In Houston, Class “C” misdemeanor theft cases (for items valued at under $100) are assigned to JP or municipal courts and you will typically be given a citation and released. If the value of the items allegedly stolen are $100 or more (which means you will be facing a Class “B” misdemeanor or higher), you will likely be arrested and have to bond out of jail. 

In Houston, most first-time shoplifting cases are granted a free bond. Once you bond out of jail, you can expect to have a court date within the next week or so. In Harris County, your case is not resolved at your first court date and you should not be anxious about what could occur. Your first court date is usually an opportunity for the judge assigned to your case to set bond conditions that you must follow while the case is pending and inquire whether you wish to hire an attorney. 

Do you need an attorney if you have been charged with shoplifting at Whole Foods?

It is highly advisable to be represented by an attorney if you are charged with shoplifting. In a shoplifting case, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you at every stage of the process and maximize your chances of keeping a shoplifting charge off of your record. 

Although it is possible to represent yourself in a shoplifting case, it is almost never a good idea. An experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you on what you can expect throughout the case (and help you manage your anxiety level), ensure that your bond conditions are not overly restrictive, challenge the State’s evidence and advise you on the best strategy for your case. 

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.