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Does a Store Cashier Commit Theft When Giving an Unauthorized Discount?

Misdemeanor theft is often associated with shoplifting by customers. But an employee may also be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor crime if he or she gives a customer an unauthorized discount. Such an act is still considered an “unlawful appropriation” of the store owner’s property.

Ex-Target Employee Sentenced to 3 Days in Jail for $160 Theft

A recent Texas misdemeanor theft case illustrates what can happen to an employee in this situation. The defendant worked for the well-known chain store Target as a cashier. During her final day on the job, she provided two customers with “significant unauthorized discounts.” The customers were apparently friends of the defendant.

The first customer was not charged for an item priced at $62.99, while the second customer was not charged for an item priced at $79.99. Both of these transactions were recorded by Target’s internal video surveillance system.

When subsequently questioned by a Target official, the defendant “verbally admitted to providing the discounts without prior authorization.” The defendant also signed a written acknowledgment on a form provided by Target. At this point the local police were notified. An officer advised the defendant of her constitutional rights and placed her under arrest.

At trial, the defendant maintained that her verbal and written confessions to the store manager were inadmissible as evidence. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that a confession to police is inadmissible unless a suspect is advised of their right to remain silent and consult with an attorney before answering questions. But the Fifth Amendment only applies to “custodial interrogations” by the police, not private questioning by an employer. Nevertheless, the defendant argued the Target managers were “acting in concert with law enforcement,” and she should have been advised of her rights before making her admissions in their presence.

Both the trial court and the Texas appeals court disagreed. A jury ultimately convicted the defendant of misdemeanor theft. Although the defendant received a 90-day jail sentence, the judge reduced that 72 hours in jail and one year of probation.

After her initial appeal failed the defendant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus–an order declaring her conviction was unconstitutional. In her petition, the plaintiff alleged prosecutorial misconduct and said she was “denied effective assistance of counsel.” These claims revolved around the fate of the two customers who received the improperly discounted merchandise. At trial, the defendant said a prosecution witness suggested the customers were also charged with theft, when in fact they were not. But a Texas appeals court concluded this was immaterial to the defendant’s conviction and accordingly denied her habeas petition.

Contact a Galveston Misdemeanor Theft Lawyer Today

While a misdemeanor conviction may not be as serious as a felony, it can still disrupt your life and leave you with a criminal record that may affect your future employment opportunities. So if you are charged with theft or any other misdemeanor offense you need to speak with a Houston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates at (281) 280-0100 if you need immediate assistance.