New Shoplifting Laws in Massachusetts

Do I need a lawyer if I am charged with shoplifting?  Probably.

In January of 2015, Governor Baker signed into law “An Act to Improve the Criminal Laws Relative to Organized Retain Theft.” The Act, which is now in effect in Massachusetts, created several new crimes related to organized shoplifting.

According to Wikipedia,

Organized retail crime refers to professional shoplifting. . . . The FBI has estimated that the losses attributed to organized retail crime could reach as much as $30 billion a year. These criminals move from store to store and even city to city. Working in teams, some create distractions while others steal everything from infant formula to DVDs. Often, they are stocking up on specified items at the request of the organized crime leader.


The new crimes include the following, namely:

  1. Distribution of a Theft Detection Shielding Device, e.g., a laminated or coated bag;
  2. Possession of a Theft Detection Shielding Device with Intent to Steal;
  3. Possession of a Theft Detection Device Deactivator with Intent to Use it Without Permission of the Store;
  4. Distribution of a Theft Detection Device Deactivator;
  5. Deactivation or Removal of a Theft Detection Device with Intent to Steal;
  6. Forging a Retail Receipt with Intent to Defraud a Retailer; and
  7. Committing Organized Retail Crime, Committing Aggravated Organized Retail Crime or Being the Leader of an Organized Retail Crime Enterprise.

Each of the new crimes is a felony providing for the possibility of state prison (not just jail) time. Some of the crimes allow up to 10 years imprisonment.  The new law also allows retailers to sue shoplifters for significant money damages over and above the value of the goods stolen.

These laws give retailers much more protection from professional shoplifting rings that target their stores.  However, the law already provided that the police may arrest a suspected shoplifter without warrant, so long as the officer has probable cause to suspect shoplifting, and the law further provides that “[t]he statement of a merchant or his employee or agent that a person has violated a provision of this section shall constitute probable cause for arrest by any law enforcement officer authorized to make an arrest in such jurisdiction.”  G.L. c. 266, §30A.  So, if a store employee simply tells the police that someone shoplifted, that officer can arrest that person then and there without a warrant.

Penalties for non-organized shoplifting range up to two and a half years in jail, along with fines.

Attorney Kevin D. Quinlan

Uxbridge, Massachusetts

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