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How Police Handle Accidental Shoplifting Cases

When the police receive a report of shoplifting, the initial step is to evaluate the situation and determine the intent behind the shoplifting. Understanding whether the act was accidental or deliberate is crucial. Officers will carefully listen to the accused individual's side of the story, review surveillance footage, and speak to witnesses and store personnel to gather as much information as possible.

What is Accidental Shoplifting?

Accidental shoplifting refers to the unintentional act of leaving a store with an unpaid item. This could occur for various reasons, such as distraction, forgetfulness, or a simple mistake. For example, someone might walk out of a store carrying an item they did not pay for because they were on the phone or dealing with children, and it slipped their mind. Accidental shoplifting can certainly occur, but sadly, it is a common excuse heard by store owners, loss prevention staff, police, and prosecutors. Usually, claiming it was a mistake is not a valid defense unless it can be conclusively proven by evaluating all the evidence.

The Role of Merchandise Value

The value of the merchandise in question also plays a significant role in determining how the case will be handled. In cases where the item’s value is relatively low, and the act appears unintentional, the police may decide to handle the situation with more leniency, possibly resolving the issue at the store level without pressing formal charges and arresting the individual.

In California, if the value of the stolen merchandise stolen is less than $50, it is very likely that the accused may get a warning, slap on the wrist, or an infraction citation. If the merchandise stolen is considered “necessities” such as food items, there is a strong possibility you will not be prosecuted. If the merchandise stolen is valued at over $50 and less than $950 and it is the store’s policy to prosecute all shoplifters, then you could be arrested, booked, and taken to the local jail and charged with a misdemeanor charge. However, if the value of the merchandise stolen is over $950, then you could be facing a felony charge.

Mediation as a Path to Resolution

If it is determined that the shoplifting was indeed accidental, police may engage in mediation between the accused and the store management. Officers might facilitate an apology, and the accused may be given an opportunity to pay for the merchandise, leading to a resolution that satisfies both parties without entering the legal arena.

Issuance of Warnings and Citations

In situations where the shoplifting was unintentional, a warning might be issued to the individual. Police might also provide information on the legal consequences of shoplifting, ensuring the individual is aware of the seriousness of such actions, even when accidental.

Ensuring Fair Treatment

Police are tasked with ensuring that every individual is treated fairly and that their rights are protected during the investigative process. This includes making sure that the accused is not subjected to undue harassment or humiliation and that the procedures followed are in alignment with legal standards and human rights.

Documentation and Records

Even in cases of accidental shoplifting, documentation is essential. Police will maintain a record of the incident, including the parties involved, the nature of the offence, and the resolution. This ensures there is a reference point in case of any future incidents or legal considerations. If the accused individual happens to return to the same store and is caught shoplifting (accidental or not), he or she will likely be arrested and prosecuted.

Shoplifting Defense Attorneys

Accidental shoplifting presents a unique challenge in the realm of law enforcement. Police officers are required to exercise a high level of discretion, fairness, and sensitivity in dealing with such cases. By carefully evaluating the intent, applying relevant laws, and engaging in mediation where necessary, police can ensure that justice is served while minimizing harm to all parties involved. Thus, the subtle art of handling accidental shoplifting underscores the diverse and nuanced role of police in maintaining order and justice in society.‘

If you are facing shoplifting charges, the Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at Stephen G Rodriguez can help. Call us at 213-481-6811 and learn how we can help you fight your shoplifting case. We bring over 50 plus years of criminal law experience and we will put that experience to work for you!