Have you or someone you know been accused and charged with
shoplifting? It can happen to anyone and there are several reasons people shoplift:
Economic Necessity - Some people do not have the money to purchase what they need or want.
Excitement & Thrill – Some shoplifters experience a high or an adrenaline rush when
stealing. Often these shoplifters have no need for the products they steal
but rather the stealing is done just for the thrill. This type of stealing
is rooted in psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
Kleptomania – Some shoplifters have an irresistible impulse to steal. They steal
anything even if they don't need the products they steal. They cannot
stop themselves. This type of stealing is called Kleptomania and is often
linked to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and other psychological problems.
Peer Pressure – Peer pressure is very common, especially among teenagers. Acknowledgment
and acceptance within a peer group can be strong motivators.
Shoplifting in California
According to California Penal Code sections 484 and 488, shoplifting, otherwise known as
petty theft, is prosecuted as a
misdemeanor and is defined as
taking personal property of another valued at $950 or less, without the
person's consent and with the
intent of permanently depriving the owner of the
property. If the value of the merchandise exceeds $950 then the charge is Grand Theft.
Grand Theft can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a
Shoplifting means taking merchandise from a commercial establishment without
paying for it (Penal Code section 459.5). Example: Marty goes into a phone
store and approaches the cellular phone counter. There he picks up one
of the phones and slips it into a shopping bag. He then leaves the store
without paying for the phone. He is stopped outside and approached buy
Loss Prevention personnel who escort him back into the store. Marty may
be arrested and charged under California's shoplifting law. In Los
Angeles, theft is sometimes charged together commercial burglary. Commercial
burglary is defined as the crime of entering a commercial establishment
with the intent to commit a crime in the place entered. For this charge
to stick it is critical the intent precede the entering of the business.
This may be difficult to prove since some shoplifters commit their shoplifting
Most people caught shoplifting claim “it was mistake” or “it was an accident” and immediately offer to pay for the items they were caught with.
The real truth often is those caught stealing knew exactly what they were
doing and were trying to cover up their theft before they were apprehended.
So can shoplifting be accidental? The answer is YES. Accidental shoplifting
occurs when the person stealing merchandise from the store did not really
intend to deprive the store owner of their merchandise. The whole issue
on whether shoplifting is accidental revolves on “intent.”
Taking property or merchandise from a store by
accident is not considered theft/shoplifting. Let's be clear about this. Accidental
shoplifting does not apply to people who intended to steal something but
use the “accidental excuse” once they are caught. Accidental
shoplifting refers to those people who truly made a mistake, forgot to
pay for the items, and who did not have the intent to deprive the store
owner of that merchandise.
Let's discuss real life situations and see how this applies:
Example: Mary walked into a store and filled her basket with items, but a couple
of small items fell inside one of the larger ones. The cashier doesn’t
notice this and scans only the large item. After Mary pays and leaves,
she notices the items were not paid for. Should Mary fear getting into
trouble and what should Mary do? Once Mary realizes those were overlooked
by the cashier, she should return to the store immediately and pay for
the items. This clearly appears to be a mistake and would be a defense
to a shoplifting charge if Mary was prosecuted for shoplifting. What if
the security cameras in the store captured evidence making it
look like those items were purposely concealed? This could be a problem for Mary
because the concealing of the items would be evidence (indirect) that
she planned to steal the merchandise.
Example: Joe is carrying an item he intended to pay for, but then absent-mindedly
walked past the cash register and went outside to take a phone call. To
a Loss Prevention officer, if a person has exited the store with merchandise,
they have committed shoplifting and can be criminally charged. If there
were no videos or witness statements stating that Joe was concealing merchandise
in his clothing or in another shopping bag then Joe would have a reasonable
and believable defense to his
Possible Legal Defenses
Ultimately, the determining factor in shoplifting cases is
intent. Unfortunately, “it was an accident” or “I
did intend pay for it" are excuses that loss prevention professionals and prosecutors hear all
the time, and will not be a successful defense unless the totality of
the evidence pointed to a mistake or to an accident. When video evidence
is involved, the main thing Loss Prevention and prosecutors will focus
on is the behavior of the customer while in the store, shown by store
video and observations made by Loss Prevention staff. If the customer
is seen selecting some merchandise and concealing that merchandise on
their person or in another shopping bag; or if the customer takes off
or switches price tags while in the store and then walks past the cashiers,
he/she is likely to be arrested and charged with shoplifting.
Only the alleged offender knows of his or her own intent, making it almost
to prove the incident was an accident or a mistake. Ultimately, whether
you meant to pay or not, if you attempt to leave a store with unpaid merchandise
and are caught, you will likely be criminally charged.
Facing Charges? Request a Free & Confidential Case Review
If you are facing shoplifting charges call our office to discuss your legal
options. Confidential case reviews are available at no charge to the client.
Call (213) 481-6811 to schedule a consultation with a Los Angeles shoplifting defense lawyer.