What is Shoplifting?
To begin, we must first understand what shoplifting is. 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, which 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). Here is an example:
Marty goes into a phone store and approaches the 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 with 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.
What is Accidental Shoplifting?
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. Instead, it 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.
How Accidental Shoplifting May Occur
Below is an example of how accidental shoplifting may occur:
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. 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.
Below is another example:
is carrying an item he intended to pay for, but 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, 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. For this reason,
it is wise to hire an attorney who has experience handling complex
criminal defense cases.
Request a free and confidential case review with a Los Angeles shoplifting defense lawyer.