How Long After Shoplifting Can You Be Caught?

There is a common misconception that if you shoplift and are able to leave the store undetected that you will not be charged for your crimes. You may wonder then, how long after shoplifting can you be caught? In Canada, unlike in the United States, there is no universal statute of limitations on criminal acts, so, depending on the gravity of your shoplifting, there may not be a maximum amount of time to protect you from being prosecuted. If you have shoplifted and are wondering about the penalties and likeliness of being caught after the fact, read on.

How are Shoplifters Caught?

Many people believe that if they are able to leave the store without being caught for shoplifting that they will never be caught, but this is not the case. Here are some of the main ways people are caught for shoplifting. 


One of the most common ways a person is caught shoplifting is if they trigger an alarm when leaving the store. This is an instant sign that something is amiss, and although there are false alarms, triggering an alarm at the store’s exist is usually a cause for suspicion and gives the store the right to search your belongings.

Caught in the Act

Sometimes, people are caught in the act of shoplifting. Whether you’re caught on camera or a staff member or security guard sees you pocketing an item, being seen while shoplifting is a surefire way to be charged with theft.

Security Footage After the Fact

If the theft is large enough, the store may conduct an investigation and search through security footage. If you are found on camera and identified, you can be charged for theft even if it occured months previous. 

Returning to the Scene

A common reason people are caught shoplifting is they return to the same store and continue to shoplift. They will provide not only an identification, but the more someone steals from the same place, the more likely they are to be noticed and caught.

When Can You Be Charged for Shoplifting?

Canada does not have a universal statute of limitations on indictable criminal acts; however, according to Section 786(2) of the Canadian Criminal Code, summary offences have a limitation period that prohibits the initiation of a summary conviction if more than the permitted period of time has elapsed since the offence was committed. This is only applicable if you have not been under investigation or charged with the summary conviction within that period of time. Indictable offences, on the other hand, can begin the prosecution process any time after the crime was committed. Typically, shoplifting is considered a summary offence, as it is often referred to as “theft under $5000”. If you are a repeat offender though, or the theft exceeds $5000, you may be charged with an indictable offence. Theft is a hybrid offence, meaning that it is up to the prosecution to determine whether the accused should be charged with a summary offence or an indictable one. This means that if the prosecution has a case against you, they have the option to charge you with an indictable offence, no matter the time that has lapsed since the alleged crime. 

Consequences for Getting Caught Shoplifting

If you’re convicted for shoplifting, the consequences can vary. The consequences of shoplifting are dependent on the amount stolen, and the circumstances of the theft and that of the accused are also taken into consideration. Circumstances of the theft and that of the accused are where your defence lawyer can make a case for empathy or leniency based on the situation. For example, if the accused is found to be struggling financially and stole baby formula for their child, a judge is more likely to look at the case with compassion than if the accused stole a brand name watch and came from a wealthy background. Because shoplifting is theft, a hybrid offence, theft under $5000 is considered to be a summary offence, while over $5000 is an indictable offence, but this can change based on other factors surrounding the event. 

If you are charged with a summary offence of theft under $5000, you can be fined up to $2000, imprisoned for up to six months, or both. If you are charged with an indictable offence for theft over $5000, you may be liable for up to 10 years in prison.

Do You Need a Defence Lawyer if Charged with Shoplifting?

Yes. A qualified defence lawyer is the only option if you want a positive result from being charged for shoplifting. Your defence lawyer will help you make a case that either proves your innocence or will help provide leniency regarding your punishment. Defence lawyers know the ins and outs of the Canadian Criminal Code and will help you with your shoplifting accusation.

Brian McGlashan is an Edmonton defence lawyer with decades of experience in criminal law. If you are charged with shoplifting in Edmonton, call Brian right away. His expertise in the field will help you with your case and receive the best results.

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Brian McGlashan
Brian McGlashan, co-founder of McGlashan & Company was called to the Alberta Bar in 1995. Brian has appeared in all levels of Alberta Courts. Brian practices criminal law with a primary focus on Impaired Driving charges (DUI). Brian is a member of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association.

McGlashan & Company is an Edmonton Criminal Law Firm located just south of Edmonton’s historic Whyte Avenue.

Brian McGlashan has been defending DUI/Impaired Driving charges in Edmonton for over 20+ years.