Two bills at the South Carolina Statehouse are aimed at strengthening the state's weak shoplifting laws.
How weak are they? A shoplifter who steals $300 worth of merchandise in Georgia is charged with a felony, but that same shoplifter could steal $1,999 worth in South Carolina and be charged with a misdemeanor. While the felony threshold in Georgia is $300, it's $2,000 in South Carolina.
There are two similar bills, one in the House sponsored by State Representative David Weeks, D-Sumter, and one in the Senate sponsored by State Senator Larry Martin, R-Pickens. Rep. Weeks says the bills aren't aimed at typical shoplifters; they're aimed at what's called Organized Retail Crime.
He says, “You go in one store and you do it, it's one thing. But when you go to one store and then the next store and then the next store, you're going beyond just simple shoplifting. You're talking about actually being a part of an organized activity. They bag them up. They take them on to someone else to someone who sells them on the black market. It's a national criminal problem in the United States.”
The South Carolina Retail Association says there's one man who operates in Greenville and Columbia who's been spotted shoplifting eight times in the last 12 months, and he's been arrested four times. But because what he stole was always under the $2,000 threshold, he was charged with only misdemeanors.
Under the bills at the Statehouse, all the merchandise a shoplifter steals over a 90-day period is added together, meaning a lot more felony charges that have a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Sen. Martin says, “These minor, misdemeanor, slap-on-the-wrist-type charges associated with, say, under $100–that doesn't get it. You're going to have to be able to charge someone with a more serious crime that fits what it is they're actually doing.”
The South Carolina House of Representatives House bill will be on the full House calendar next week, while the South Carolina Senate bill is still in committee.
The bills would also make it illegal to remove or alter a bar code to get a cheaper price on something. Right now, there's no specific law against that.