Adolescent Shoplifting: Laws and Punishments

What happens when a juvenile gets caught shoplifting?

Well, that depends.

When a person under 18 years of age commits a crime, the case doesn't go to the criminal justice system. The process goes through the juvenile justice system or a teen court program, using its judges, courts, rules, and prosecutors. The juvenile court deals with minors charged with the crime of shoplifting in many ways, depending on the circumstances. 

juvenile court

For instance, if a first-time offender gets caught shoplifting, the court may release the juvenile to his or her parents after a stern warning. When a minor who already has a criminal record gets caught shoplifting, the juvenile court may hand out more severe penalties. 

It's worth noting, however, that the crime of shoplifting is the same for adolescents as it is for adults. 

The Difference of Shoplifting by Adults and Juveniles

The differentiating factor is how a particular juvenile court handles the case. There are juvenile courts across all states. How these courts handle a case depends on local and state laws. Most states consider minor shoplifting as petty theft. 

Petty theft carries a misdemeanor charge unless the price of the stolen goods exceeds a fixed amount. As the value of the stolen items goes up, the severity of the punishment follows suit. Some states consider the theft of anything worth $1,000 or more a felony. 

Shoplifting Explained

The crime of shoplifting is a category of theft or larceny. Many states divide theft into petty and grand theft. Petty theft involves stealing something worth less than a specific amount, usually $500 or less. Grand theft is often taking anything worth $1,000 or more. 

adolescent shoplifting

All 50 states have their penal codes for petty crimes and punishments. Most states give merchants privileges on how to handle shoplifters and stolen merchandise. Many juveniles don't think about the consequences of taking something from a store. 

They may think that shoplifting isn't a big deal, especially when stealing a small item. However, petty theft is not a victimless crime. Both the accused minor and the establishment suffer the consequences. 

Penalties for Shoplifting

In the eyes of the law, minors don't have the same ability to make choices like adults do. Therefore, the penalties for juvenile shoplifting are more for correcting the behavior and not punishing it. Juvenile courts are pretty flexible about what type of punishment is appropriate for each case. 

As such, the penalties vary from case to case for adolescent shoplifting. 

Release to Parents

If a minor gets caught shoplifting for the first time, a juvenile court may decide to release the individual to a parent or guardian. In cases like these, the court will give the juvenile a stern lecture and warning about future shoplifting violations. 


The court orders the accused minor to pay restitution to the store owner for the value of the shoplifted goods. If the juvenile is working, the court may order him/her to continue employment until the complete payment of the restitution. If the youth is old enough to work but unemployed, the court may order the adolescent to find a job and work to pay off the restitution money. 


A court may order the probation of minors convicted of shoplifting. Probation for juveniles lasts about six months or longer, depending on the circumstances. During probation, youths must take specific actions, such as:

  • Staying in school.

  • Obeying the orders of parents, guardians, or school officials as long as they are reasonable. 

  • Reporting to a probation officer regularly during the probation period. 

If the juvenile doesn't comply, the court may impose a more severe penalty. 


A diversion program is a less formal form of probation, but the same in many terms and aspects. In most instances, the juvenile should:

  • Participate in an education program.

  • Perform community service.

  • Maintain a specific GPA or meet other academic requirements.

Diversion programs are typically only offered to first-time offenders. This program is a chance for first-timers to avoid the more formal proceedings of a juvenile court. 


Courts can order counseling sessions whenever appropriate. State services often provide juvenile counseling. The court may also order the parents or guardians to seek an alternative family counselor. 

Confinement or Placement

confinement of minors

In more severe shoplifting cases, or when a juvenile is a repeat offender, the court may:

  • Order the youth to a detention facility.

  • Order the juvenile to a boot-camp style program.

  • Order the juvenile to a weekend detention scheme. 

If the juvenile court finds that the minor's home environment is toxic and contributes to the delinquency: 

  • It can send the minor into a foster home. 

  • It can send the juvenile into a state facility that cares for neglected children. 

Any individual who has gone through a juvenile court proceeding should look into having his/her juvenile court records sealed or expunged.