An Exton, Pennsylvania, woman who took $15 worth of food items from Wegmans Food Markets without paying for them has been charged with retail theft by local police. Chester County’s Daily Local News reported that on March 10, 2017, she was observed placing items into a bag as she roamed through the store. Retail theft is one of several types of theft crimes under Pennsylvania law, and it can be charged as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. A criminal defense attorney can explain more about the details of theft crimes and grading system as well as the potential penalties if you’re convicted. Still, some general information may help you understand the severity of the crime and why it’s important to retain an experienced lawyer.
The umbrella definition of theft is an unlawful taking or disposition of property belonging to another person, with the intent to deprive the owner of using or enjoying it. To deprive is to withhold the property permanently or for such a time that it has lost significant value, or to dispose of an item in such a way that the owner won’t be able to recover it. Property may be movable, such as a car or personal belongings, or immovable; an example of immovable property may be a bank account.
This theft crime occurs when a person takes possession of merchandise that’s offered for sale at a store or retail establishment, without paying for it. The definition includes altering an item’s label or tag in such a way that the offender doesn’t pay full retail value, as well as moving merchandise into a different container so that the tag reflects a lower price. A person may also be charged with retail theft for destroying or deactivating security devices with the intent to take possession of property belonging to the store.
Retail theft is a low-level crime if it’s a first offense and the property taken is worth less than $150. However, the offense and penalties increase:
Some of the most serious crimes that anyone can be charged with come under Title 31 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code — Sexual Offenses.
Under the guise of approximately eight different sub-statutes, Pennsylvania punishes people who engage in various types of sexual conduct. Although every defendant is innocent until proven guilty at a trial, the reality is that the stigma of a sexual offense always leans against the defendant. The stain of a sexual offense charge often forces defendants to engage an active defense against a sexual offense charge, even though they have no burden to do so.
In addition, the criminal effects of a conviction always have lifetime consequences (especially Megan’s Law requirements). It is for these reasons that anyone charged with a sexual offense should take his or her case very seriously.
Considering the circumstances, the ages and employment of the individuals involved, the conduct alleged, and the date an offense allegedly occurred, a defendant who is accused of sexual misconduct may be charged with one or more of the following offenses:
The nature of sexual offense charges in Pennsylvania will depend on a number of factors, including:
Age: Age is an important factor in chargeability and defense. For most sexual offense statutes, age makes a difference when an alleged victim is less than 16 years old, when a defendant is four (4) years or more older. Mistake of age for complainants under 14 years old is not a defense; however, it can become a defense in cases involving complainants older than 14.
Strict Liability: Knowledge of a victim’s age is irrelevant in some situations. Anyone accused of any type of sexual conduct with a complainant who is actually less than 13 years old is “strictly liable” for the offense. There is no defense that the defendant thought the victim was 15, 16 or even 17 years old. In addition, sexual intercourse between an individual under 16 years old and a defendant who is 4 years or more older is strictly criminally liable under Pennsylvania statutes.
Sex Doesn’t Just Mean “Sex”: Sexual intercourse is not the only sexual activity that is punishable under the law. A few Pennsylvania statutes punish a broad range of sexual activity, including forms of penetration, however slight. Of course, even if no contact occurs, a defendant can always be prosecuted for criminal attempt or conspiracy to engage in a sexual offense.
Lengthy Statute of Limitations: Most prosecutions must commence within 12 years of the alleged crime. Where a victim is under 18 years old, prosecution must commence within 12 years after the victim turns 18 years old or by the date the minor victim reaches 50 years old. Old, forgotten, and even sealed accusations nevertheless have a way of coming back to prosecute unsuspecting defendants (as in the Bill Cosby case).
Victim’s Sexual History: Evidence of a complainant’s past sexual history or reputation is not admissible in a sexual offense case. Often called “rape shield laws,” the legislative purpose is to protect complainants from coming forward out of fear of sexual judgment. Evidence of past sexual conduct is admissible at trial, however, only where the complainant’s consent with the defendant is an issue and only after a hearing on the matter.
Even if consent is not an issue (such as being charged with statutory sexual assault), other defenses may be available. A defendant has a right to present an alibi to all charges alleged, and has a right to cross-examine a complainant and any other witnesses. If DNA evidence exists, there must be a proper chain of custody before such evidence is admissible at trial. With the assistance of counsel, you may be able to present these and other powerful defenses.
The consequences of a criminal conviction for any type of sexual misconduct are severe. Aside from the effects of a felony conviction, most defendants must register on the Sexual Offender Registration system for a period of 15 years, 25 years, or for life.
As a registered sexual offender, a defendant’s movements are tracked every year and home and work addresses, vehicle information, criminal information, picture and physical description are publicly available for the world to see.
A conviction for sexual misconduct has other implications. A convicted individual may not sponsor relatives, even spouses, for certain family-based immigration petitions. Convicted individuals may also be barred from: adopting or taking custody of minor relatives, obtaining teaching and other occupational licenses, operating certain child-based businesses, attending school events, rallies, PTO meetings, volunteering and even being on or near school property.
When a defendant is convicted of a sexual offense, the reality is that the whole family feels the effects.
Even if you are merely accused of a sexual offense — but not charged — it is most important to invoke your right to remain silent.
Do not speak to the police, the alleged victim or any family members about the incident. Do not agree to provide any DNA. It is also important not to submit to any type of junk science including polygraph tests.
Until you retain an attorney, police may attempt to get a hold of you any way possible. Nothing prevents them from calling your cell phone, contacting you through Facebook and even showing up to your home or school for questioning. Once you retain an attorney, police must cease all attempts to contact you directly.
If you or a loved one find yourselves in a situation where serious sexual accusations are made — even falsely — you should contact an attorney immediately.
The attorneys at Skinner Law Firm represent clients for a variety of allegations involving sexually motivated crimes in Chester County, and the surrounding areas of Delaware County and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. With offices conveniently located in West Chester in Chester County and Media in Delaware County, our attorneys are ready to help you fight these serious charges.