A woman recently was stopped after she allegedly tried to exit from the Benner Pike Wal-Mart without paying for approximately $1,200.00 worth of merchandise. When the police officer arrested the woman for the State College retail theft incident, he conducted a warrantless search incident to arrest, and the search led the officer to find heroin. Because of the value of the merchandise, the woman is facing a theft charge that is at least a misdemeanor of the first degree, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in jail and a $10,000.00 fine. If the woman had at least one prior Retail Theft conviction in her past, then the severity the current theft charge would be increased to a felony of the third degree and thereby subject the woman to 7 years of incarceration and a $15,000.00 fine. The Possession of Heroin charge, a violation of 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(16), is an ungraded misdemeanor and punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. A conviction of the drug possession charge would also result in a mandatory suspension of the woman's Pennsylvania driver's license, and a person subject to a drug suspension is not eligible to obtain an Occupation Limited License.
Heroin Use and Theft Crimes
Fortunately for the woman, she was only charged with a misdemeanor charge of drug possession and not the more severe felony drug charges related to possession with intent to deliver. Sadly, the criminal penalties may pale in comparison to what the woman may go through in recovery or treatment if she is addicted to heroin. Regrettably, many people that use heroin become addicted and physically dependent upon it, so their bodies need the drug in order to function. Many heroin addicts are unable to afford the costly habit and thereby resort to stealing to obtain the necessary funds to further the addiction. Some people steal from Wal-Mart and then return the items in an attempt to obtain cash, which is then used to buy drugs. In other cases, addicts often steal cash or checks from family members, co-workers, or employers. As noted above, the severity of the heroin possession charge is much less than the theft charge, but the heroin use is often the cause of additional criminal, family, and employment problems. If this woman has a heroin problem, hopefully she gets the help and treatment that she needs to avoid any future arrests.
In some counties, court systems have created Drug and DUI Courts that focus more on pushing rehabilitation. Participants in such courts are often given slightly less severe sentences, such as in-home detention instead of jail time, as an inducement to join, but the participants are subject to a much more intensive treatment program. The participants must often attend AA or NA meetings on a daily basis, attend Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP) with counselors 2 to 3 times a week, and appear before the judge every 2 to 3 weeks to give a status update. Based upon my experience with the Centre County DUI Court program, I have found that such programs are successful and should be used more extensively.