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My teen daughter got arrested for shoplifting: Why? What was she thinking?

Question: My teenage daughter got arrested for shoplifting at the mall last weekend, and now we need an Alpharetta shoplifting lawyer to help her. She was at the North Point Mall and she got stopped by store security. She tried stealing a shirt and when she tried to walk out, she and her friend were stopped. Both girls admitted that they took a shirt and didn’t pay for it. The Alpharetta police came to the mall and took them to the Alpharetta jail.

The value of the shirt is about $40.00, and it was on sale.

I never thought my daughter would steal things. She has absolutely no reason to steal. We give her a generous allowance and she can buy just about anything she wants with her credit cards. My husband is a CEO of a technology company here in Alpharetta, so she has more than enough money to get what she needs and wants. We bought her a BMW with a custom interior just two months ago; and she loves jewelry so we try to get her a nice diamond piece at least every couple of months or so. She’s 17 years old. Yes, I guess you could call her spoiled.

This is her first arrest ever and I don’t want it to impact her going to college or getting a job in the future. So we need help with this issue because we’re really scared that an arrest for shoplifting looks terrible and can have major implications for her life. She might get kicked out of our church for breaking the law and being dishonest, so she’s ashamed of what happened and has been crying a lot.

I’m not sure why a kid with so much going for her would want to shoplift. It just doesn’t make sense and we’re considering getting her counseling and maybe putting her on medication. I also want to know if it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. Please help because in her heart I know she’s not a shoplifter.

P.P. in Dunwoody, Georgia

Answer: For a Georgia shoplifting lawyer, this is a frequently asked question. Many parents want to understand why their children shoplift. They want to make sense of something that, to the parent, doesn’t make sense at all. And, in reality, it’s not an easy answer.

Most Kids Can’t Explain Why They Did It

Most adolescents, in fact, can't explain it themselves. It rarely involves a genuine need for something like food. The main reasons given by experts include that some kids are troubled and looking for attention and some are lashing out at authority. But many simply do it to fit in with peers; it’s just peer pressure.

Teen Shoplifting is Rarely Premeditated

Most of the time, interestingly, the stealing is not premeditated. Most teens don’t plan-out their stealing. Rather, lack of impulse control, combined with teens' general lack of judgment, takes over. And during weekends, holidays, and summer break, with less structure and supervision and absent adults, there's an even greater chance of this unplanned stealing. Studies over several decades have consistently shown that when kids have a lot of free time, it increases the likelihood they'll get in trouble.

Shoplifting is an Increasing Problem

Shoplifting is an increasing problem not only here in Georgia but nationwide. Teen unemployment, tight family budgets, and lack of adequate parental controls can also have an effect. A leading industry study found that 64 percent of stores surveyed have seen a jump in what they call "amateur or opportunistic" theft. Retailers complain that it takes a sizeable bite out of their profit margins.  

Retailers are Growing Very Concerned

Retailers, unsurprisingly, are very concerned about these thefts and are responding with more prosecutions. Major retail chains have lowered the age for pressing charges from 18 to 16, and decreased the time stores give parents to get there before police are called. And some stores don’t wait for parents to pick-up their children. They just call the police and have the young person arrested.

Parents Usually Don’t Get Called; Cops Make an Arrest

And when the cops arrive, they come to make an arrest, not issue a warning. And an arrest entails questioning,  handcuffs, getting loaded into the back of a cruiser, getting fingerprinted and put in a cell for a number of hours until the young person gets bailed out.

Many teens describe the whole experience as “humiliating" and “scary.” The motive for these actions by the stores and the police is to deter future thefts.

Is Shoplifting a Felony or Misdemeanor?

The Georgia shoplifting statute, O.C.G.A. § 16-8-14, provides that if the value of the property stolen is over $500.00, then it’s a felony. But if the value of the property is less than $500.00, it’s classified as a misdemeanor.

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