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For Defense Lawyers, 'Tis the Season for Vandalism, Shoplifting

December 4, 2014

The holiday season is a time when we see the best of humanity: There are food drives and coat drives and programs aimed at bringing communities together through socials and visits from Santa.

But all that goodwill doesn’t make the month of December immune to the criminal element, as any Pittsburgh criminal defense lawyer will tell you: There are always tales of shoplifting and vandalism, this time of year, too.

Those reports are already popping up in the local police beat. Take a Post-Gazette story published this week out of Ford City, Armstrong County.

Let me set the scene: The Ford City Renaissance Community Partnership took over decorating the community’s Memorial Park after the borough hit tough times following the closure of the PPG plant there. The Post-Gazette reports that the volunteer organization (that solicits donations to prepare the display) on Wednesday morning discovered vandals had damaged more than $1,000 worth of their Christmas decorations.

The paper said the vandals snatched the bulbs from large decorations, and knocked over a 20-foot light-up star there.

While vandalism of public property is always disheartening, this story is gearing up for a possible happy ending: PG says the organizers are determined to redecorate the area – and the community has shown them a ton of support.

Then there was a felony shoplifting report out of South Strabane Township in Washington County.

The Observer-Reporter website also reports that two Donora residents were charged with retail theft, conspiracy, and possession of a controlled substance and possession of paraphernalia after police allege they stole $2,838 of merchandise from Walmart. When searched, police said both had suspected drugs on them.

Shoplifting is a serious offense, and its consequences range from a summary offense to a felony according to the value of the commodity taken and the number of times a person has been formally convicted. An experienced Pittsburgh criminal lawyer can tell you that one can be convicted of shoplifting if you take possession of or carry something displayed and offered by a store without paying its full retail value. Removing or changing the price tag which determines the value of the merchandise and attempting to buy it at a lesser price is also considered to be a retail crime. If a store owner or the staff has a justified reason to believe you have been shoplifting, he or she has the right to detain you and recover all kinds of merchandise that you have not bought.

Vandalism, properly referred to as “criminal mischief,” is another severe offense. If you vandalize or deface the building, the objects in it or the grounds of a place of religious worship or any other community center, municipal building or educational facility, you can be charged with institutional vandalism. Institutional vandalism is when you damage a public property which will incur a repairing cost of more than $5,000 and is considered to be a felony of the third degree, punishable up to 7 years of prison time and $15,000 fines.

In both such cases, you will need an experienced and skilled Pittsburgh criminal lawyer who will not only guide you at every step but also pose strong arguments in your favor.

One of the defenses possible, at least in a case of vandalism, is lack of criminal intent. If you didn’t intend to commit a crime, your attorney would use the details about the case that you gave him to prove that to the court.

As always, it’s important for you to tell your attorney every detail of the case. You might think something is minor or unimportant, but even the smallest detail can be used by an experienced attorney to get your charges reduced or dismissed.

Every case is different, with different details and circumstances. There’s no way a simple blog post can tell you everything you need to know, so if you find yourself facing vandalism or shoplifting charges, don’t hesitate to give me a call.

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