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Toronto Shoplifting and Theft Under $5000 Charges Lawyer

How shoplifting/theft under $5000 charges can cause problems travelling to the United States

Just being charged with shoplifting can lead to being denied entry because Customs and Border Protection consider Theft Under $5000 to be a moral turpitude offence as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Travellers may be refused entry even if they are not convicted or found guilty in court.

The United States considers both Theft and Fraud Under $5000 to be moral turpitude offences. Moral turpitude offences are crimes that Customs and Border Protection officers are trained to often deny entry for if an accused is convicted of or admits to having committed. This means that travellers can be denied entry into the U.S. even if they were not convicted or found guilty in the court. Simply admitting to the crime of shoplifting is enough.

Someone who works for the Government (in Canada) told me that it will have no impact and the whole thing is “no big deal”.

Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation being provided to people who get charged with shoplifting much of which comes from seemingly legitimate sources who are wrong. The truth is that unless you are a U.S. Citizen, you can be denied entry even if you are not found guilty or convicted of shoplifting and in fact this information is publicly available through Government sources.

Moral Turpitude: All aliens of the U.S. (non Citizens) must be deemed admissible by U.S. Customs. Criminality is one of many potential factors that are examined.

The INA (Immigration and Nationality Act) is the law U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) follows to determine the admissibility of non U.S. Citizens. Crimes of "moral turpitude" are inadmissible offences. All forms of shoplifting charges (Theft Under $5000, Fraud Under $5000, Possession of Property Obtained by Crime, and even Mischief Under $5000) are deemed to be considered moral turpitude offences because they are crimes of dishonesty.

Each offence is specifically listed as moral turpitude in the U.S. Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) under Section 9 FAM 302.3-2(B)(2)(U) Defining Moral Turpitude. This is the policy manual used by U.S. Customs as a guide to defining the terms and enforcing the law as prescribed by the INA. To read this for yourself, please see: https://www.fam.state.gov.

But someone told me if the charges are dropped or if I am not convicted or found guilty it won’t cause a problem for me?

Whoever told you that is either intentionally lying to you or does not know any better because what they said is not true at all. In reality, U.S. law is concerned with whether a person admits to committing a moral turpitude offence, not just whether a Canadian court found them guilty or convicted them. This law is found in Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act(INA), which reads:

Sec. 212. [8 U.S.C. 1182]

(a) Classes of Aliens Ineligible for Visas or Admission.-Except as otherwise provided in this Act, aliens who are inadmissible under the following paragraphs are ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted to the United States:
...
(i) In general.-Except as provided in clause (ii), any alien convicted of, or who admits having committed, or who admits committing acts which constitute the essential elements of-

(I) a crime involving moral turpitude (other than a purely political offense) or an attempt or conspiracy to commit such a crime

As one can clearly see, the U.S. law states "convicted of" OR "admits to". You can read the actual law yourself here: https://www.uscis.gov.

Toronto's former Mayor Rob Ford was denied entry to the USA despite never being convicted or found guilty in court.

It is not hard to find examples of people being denied entry for admitting to crimes of moral turpitude such as shoplifting (absent conviction). Former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was denied entry into the U.S. because he admitted to conduct that violated criminal drug laws. U.S. Customs (CBP) did not care whether he was found guilty or convicted. In fact, he was never even charged by the police but was still denied entry because he admitted to it. At the time, Rob Ford was attempting to travel there to attend a rehab facility.

Information of arrests, charges, and suspect information is being provided to U.S. Customs via CPIC and local Police databases.

Unlike Rob Ford who was turned away, those charged with shoplifting offences (given a Form 9 - Appearance Notice or Form 10 - Undertaking) are actually being accused of the crime by the police and all the information regarding the offence is being provided to U.S. Customs via CPIC (charge data, fingerprints, mugshot, date of arrest, charging police force, etc.). This means U.S. Customs has the information available to them that a Police Officer swore a charging document indicating he has reason to believe the crime was committed.

Someone told me shoplifting/theft under $5000 is a "Summary" or "Summary Conviction" offence and therefore it should not be a problem.

The "someone" who told you this ought to look at the Criminal Code of Canada because shoplifting is not a Summary offence. It is a Crown elect Indictable Offence. Everyone who is charged with theft under $5000 is subject to a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison by indictment.

Why does this matter anyway in terms of U.S. travel?

To back up a bit, in Canada most "Summary" offences carry a maximum penalty of 6 months in jail, while indictable offences carry potential sentences of 2 years or more in a federal penitentiary. In the U.S. they use the terms misdemeanor and felony for these classifications.

In terms of crossing the border it is relevant because U.S. law (INA) carries an exemption for crimes of moral turpitude (offences that may lead to inadmissibility such as shoplifting) where the maximum possible punishment is less than one year in jail.

When someone is charged with shoplifting in Canada the maximum possible punishment is, at a minimum, at least two years in prison because it is a hybrid "Indictable" offence. Shoplifting is a not summary/summary conviction offence and it never has been. Anyone who says otherwise should look at Section 334 (b) of the Criminal Code which states:

"Except where otherwise provided by law, every one who commits theft ... (b) is guilty (i) of an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or (ii) of an offence punishable on summary conviction"

The Crown Attorney sometimes will elect to proceed summarily but the accused is still liable to two years by indictment when they are arrested and charged, which puts the offence outside the INA exemption. As such, a person can be deemed inadmissible and refused entry for admitting to shoplifting.

All information regarding the arrest and charges is accessible to U.S. Customs via the CPIC database and travellers may also be asked about being fingerprinted, arrested, charged, etc. at the border.

Anyone who is charged (given an Appearance Notice or Undertaking) has all their information including name, date of birth, known addresses, physical description, charge, fingerprints, mugshot, etc. recorded by the charging police force (Toronto, York, Peel, Halton, Durham, etc). The charging police force then immediately uploads this information to the RCMP CPIC (Canadian Police Information Centre) database which is the Canadian equivalent of the FBI NCIC (National Crime Information Center) database.

CPIC’s purpose is to share police database information with all law enforcement agencies across the country. Canada provides full access to CPIC to U.S. Customs and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Therefore, the Customs have the ability to query any traveller to check for criminality which includes arrests, charges, convictions, sentences, etc.

Sometimes border agents will question the traveller about their arrest history. Those charged with shoplifting will have to answer yes to questions about arrests, detention, charges, for the rest of their lives at the border. They are subject to extra scrutiny by CBP as a result. There are some things that can reduce the likelihood of problems as a result of these questions that the traveller can prepare in advance to present to Customs.

Local Police Forces (Toronto Police Service, Peel Regional Police, York Regional Police, etc.) will also provide arrest information to U.S. Customs upon request.

It is also important to understand that law enforcement in the U.S. and Canada operate as a "family" in terms of support, cooperation, and information sharing. Any local Canadian police force would provide all information requested about a particular individual arrested in Canada as of 2022 (except in certain youth (under age 18) cases where they are legally prohibited from doing so). All local police forces in Ontario keep arrest information indefinitely. This means that even if CPIC is ultimately cleared U.S. Customs can still obtain this information. It is also possible that they may download the information from CPIC and permanently store it in their own CBP computer database prior to it being removed.

While U.S. Customs have access to all law enforcement information in Canada, they primarily rely on the CPIC database which is slow to be updated to record case dispositions.

Problems also occur for individuals charged with shoplifting or any other criminal offence in Canada when trying to travel to the United States because the CPIC database takes years to record case dispositions in the system. This means that even if the charges are withdrawn years later they can still show as pending or "awaiting disposition". As such, the Customs officers are under the belief that your case is not yet resolved. Having a pending criminal charge of any sort is a reason to deny entry. From the perspective of Customs, the person could be running from the law or inadmissible due to the reasons of criminality described above.

It is the responsibility of the traveller to be able to provide certain specific documents in these circumstances and we ensure that all of our clients have them in advance of travel to reduce the likelihood of being refused entry.

Once you are denied entry into the U.S. you are red flagged in the CBP computer system at the border as someone who has previously been refused entry.

It is important to note that when someone is denied entry by Customs most of the time the traveller is told they will not be allowed to cross the border and then is offered the opportunity to "withdraw their application" to enter. They will sign forms, be fingerprinted and photographed and then turned back to Canada. This is what most individuals experience when being refused entry at the border. Technically the refused traveller can reject this offer and await a future court date in jail but 99% of people do not choose to do this (for obvious reasons). All those who are denied by withdrawing their application to enter are red flagged as having been refused.

For those charged with theft or any other offence, the goal is to avoid ever being denied entry in the first place.

Those who are not prepared and have not received proper legal advice often are refused and find themselves red flagged by Customs forever. This means that every time their passport is swiped it pops up on the CBP computer system that the person has been denied entry for the rest of the person's life. One reason Customs takes this approach is to prevent "border shopping". They do not want individuals refused at one crossing (for example Peace Bridge) to then drive to another one and try again (for example at Rainbow Bridge).

The White House Administration continues to take a position that is tough on borders, crime and vetting the backgrounds of those seeking to enter the USA.

All of the laws and protocols provided and quoted here have existed long before the election of former President Donald Trump who was perhaps the most restrictive President in terms of border crossing policies and executive orders in modern history.

"...shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal”

- Former U.S. President Donald Trump
  November 29th, 2017

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are the sole responsibility of the U.S. Federal Government. The U.S. President is in charge of the Federal Government and has an incredible amount of decision making power over its mandates, policies, and operations, particularly in regards to immigration (travel). As of 2022, President Joe Biden has not made any policy changes relating to criminality or discretion. U.S. Customs and the Department of Homeland Security generally seem to continue to strongly support a mandate of having borders that are tougher to cross along with strict background checks and vetting for possible criminality.

Customs border agents at the point of entry (land, air or sea) have the absolute discretion to deny entry to any non U.S. Citizen. Fortunately there are many ways to significantly reduce the risk of being turned away and being permanently red flagged by Customs. We ensure that all of our clients face the lowest possible risk of being denied entry.

For more information on the Canadian Federal RCMP CPIC database, click here.


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If you are not a paying client, we cannot answer questions and provide assistance with U.S. travel, immigration, employment background checks, and avoiding a criminal record. This includes those who have already retained other counsel and those whose cases have already been completed. We also only take calls/emails relating to Ontario, Canada area cases.

Are you a lawyer? If you are defending a theft or fraud related case and are looking for expert advice regarding possible defences, case strategies, and information release management call us at: 647-228-5969.

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  • U.S. travel advice and information
  • Help with related immigration issues
  • Employment background check advice/services
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  • A clear goal of getting the charges dropped without a trial
  • Vulnerable Sector records suppression help
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