Shoplifting Charges in SC

Shoplifting charges in SC can happen to anyone. We have seen people from all walks of life who have been accused of shoplifting – some who had a “momentary lapse of reason” and others who were falsely accused by overzealous, aggressive loss prevention employees.

Below, we will discuss the different types of shoplifting charges in SC, including:

  • Statutory definitions of shoplifting,
  • Potential penalties for a conviction, and
  • The difference between shoplifting and “retail theft” charges.

Shoplifting Charges in SC: SC Code § 16-13-110

Most people think of shoplifting charges as a person concealing merchandise in their pocket or their purse and then attempting to leave the store without paying as loss prevention employees (who have been watching on a surveillance camera) intercept them before calling law enforcement.

That happens, but SC law on shoplifting covers much more than that.

SC Code Section 16-13-110 says that the state must prove that the person intended to deprive “the merchant of the possession, use, or benefit of the merchandise without paying the full retail value” while:

  • Taking possession of merchandise,
  • Carrying away merchandise,
  • Transferring merchandise from one person to another,
  • Transferring merchandise from one area of a store to another,
  • Causing merchandise to be carried away or transferred,
  • Altering, transferring, or removing a label or price tag and then attempting to purchase the merchandise, or
  • Transferring merchandise from one container to another.

How does the state prove the intent to steal?

Presumption from Concealment

SC Code § 16-13-120 says that 1) there is an “inference” that a person intends to steal the merchandise if they “willfully conceal” the merchandise, and 2) there is an “inference” that a person who conceals merchandise was “willfully concealing” it.

You can “rebut” those inferences, though.

If you absent-mindedly placed merchandise in a bag but you intended to pay for it, that’s not shoplifting.

If a person suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia wanders past the registers while having an episode, that is not shoplifting.

If a child places a candy bar in your pocketbook when you are not looking, that is not shoplifting.

If your friend steals merchandise, and you were with them but did not participate in the theft, you are not guilty of shoplifting (the “hand of one is the hand of all” does not mean “you were present when it happened”).

Penalties for Shoplifting Charges in SC

The potential penalties for a shoplifting conviction, like other property offenses, are based on the dollar value of the merchandise that was taken:

Dollar Value Felony or Misdemeanor Jail Time
$2000 or less Misdemeanor Up to 30 days
More than $2000, less than $10,000 Felony Up to five years
$10,000 or more Felony Up to ten years


Property Crime Enhancement

SC’s property crime enhancement statute, SC Code Section 16-1-57, makes shoplifting a ten-year felony if it is a third or greater conviction of any crime “for which the term of imprisonment is contingent upon the value of the property involved.”

This includes prior offenses for other property crimes where the punishment is based on the dollar value, including breach of trust with fraudulent intent, larceny, or receiving/possession of stolen goods.

Civil Penalties for Shoplifting

If you receive a letter from an attorney’s office on behalf of the store, contact your attorney immediately for advice on whether and how you should pay the civil penalty.

SC Code Section 15-75-40 authorizes the store to demand a civil penalty, but it also says, “A store which utilizes the provisions of this section is prohibited from subsequently filing criminal charges against the individual pursuant to Section 16-13-110.”

Shoplifting Charges in SC: Retail Theft

“Retail theft” charges cover situations where a person is accused of taking, receiving, or selling stolen merchandise over time.

SC Code § 16-13-135 defines retail theft as:

  • Theft of retail property “with a value exceeding two thousand dollars aggregated over a ninety-day period, with the intent to sell the retail property for monetary or other gain, and sell, barter, take, or cause the retail property to be placed in the control of a retail property fence or other person in exchange for consideration,”
  • Conspiring with another person to commit retail theft, or
  • Receiving, possessing, or selling retail property with the knowledge that it is stolen.

Penalties for Retail Theft Charges

The penalties for retail theft are more severe than the penalties for “ordinary” shoplifting charges:

Prior Convictions Felony or Misdemeanor Jail Time
First offense Misdemeanor Up to three years
Second or greater offense Felony Up to 20 years in prison


Wrongful Arrests for Shoplifting in SC

If you were arrested and charged with shoplifting without probable cause, you may have a civil lawsuit for damages against the police, the store, or the store’s employees after your criminal charges are dismissed or when you are acquitted at trial.

Depending on the facts of your case, you may have a claim against the police department that made the arrest, the store that falsely accused you of shoplifting, or both.

We will gather and preserve all evidence that you may need for a wrongful arrest lawsuit and advise you as to whether you have a valid civil claim once your criminal charges are resolved.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Columbia, SC, and Myrtle Beach, SC

The criminal defense attorneys at the Thompson & Hiller Defense Firm focus exclusively on criminal defense cases in SC. We have obtained dismissals, pre-trial diversion resulting in dismissals, or acquittals following trial in hundreds of criminal cases, and we have a record of proven results.

If you have been charged with a crime in SC or if you think you may be under investigation, call us now at 843-444-6122 or contact us through our website for a free initial consultation to find out if we can help.