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Theft of merchandise from a store or business establishment.

Although the crime of shoplifting may be prosecuted under general Larceny statutes, most jurisdictions have established a specific category for shoplifting. Statutes vary widely, but generally the elements of shoplifting are (1) willfully taking possession of or concealing unpurchased goods that are offered for sale (2) with the intention of converting the merchandise to the taker's personal use without paying the purchase price. Possession or concealment of goods typically encompasses actions both on and outside the premises.

Concealment is generally understood in terms of common usage. Therefore, covering an object to keep it from sight constitutes concealment, as would other methods of hiding an object from a shop owner. A shopper's actions and demeanor in the store, her lack of money to pay for merchandise, and the placement of an object out of a retailer's direct view are all examples of Circumstantial Evidence that may establish intent.

Shoplifting costs businesses billions of dollars every year. To enable store owners to recoup some of their losses, most states have enacted civil recovery or civil demand statutes. These laws enable retailers to seek restitution from shoplifters. Criminal prosecution is not a prerequisite to a civil demand request. Typically, a representative of or attorney for a victimized business demands a statutorily set compensation in a letter to the offender. If an offender does not respond favorably to the civil demand letter, the retailer may bring an action in Small Claims Court or another appropriate forum.

To forestall any allegations of coercion, many companies initiate civil recovery proceedings only after the shoplifter has been released from the store's custody. It is a criminal offense to threaten prosecution if a civil demand is not paid. Moreover, if a store accuses a customer of shoplifting and the individual is acquitted or if a store makes an erroneous detention, the store may face claims of False Imprisonment, Extortion, Defamation, or intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Further readings

Sennewald, Charles A., and John H. Christman. 1992. Shoplifting. Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Ask a Lawyer


Country: United States of America
State: Florida

caught shoplifting at sears 12/05/05, first time, 20yearsold, have no criminal record.


Make sure you get counsel (or at least the public defender) to try to keep this off your record eventually--jail time is probably not likely if your record is very clear now. But having that arrest and/or a conviction on your record will make job-hunting etc. more difficult. Often this could be negotiated down to some kind of court supervision etc
References in periodicals archive ?
India has the highest instance of retail theft and its total retail shrinkage is 2.
There is every indication that with the economic outlook grim, retail theft will continue to increase.
Creator of the Global Retail Theft Barometer survey Prof Joshua Bamfield, said: "This is a serious problem in Ireland, as rising rates indicate.
The laws classify types of retail theft and allow more aggressive prosecution.
In addition, specialized industry-specific services such as the Esteem retail theft database program are available.
8bn disappeared from stores in the 12 months to June 2006, says the European Retail Theft Barometer.
Bringing the problem of organized retail theft into the mainstream is the world's largest retailer's recent decision leaked to news organizations last month--to stop prosecuting first-time thieves who lift items valued at less than $25 so long as they are cooperative when busted.
MORE than 2000 shoplifters are listed in the database of a crack team tackling retail theft.
Operation Crystal Clear will see officers tackling retail theft at the Talbot Green shopping complex where several large chain stores and outlet shops are based, acting as a magnet for opportunist and experienced thieves.
This has enabled us to build up a significant profile of where these offences occur, which is imperative if we are to help our clients in their constant battle to combat retail theft and fraud
In 1997 he had been convicted of retail theft, and in 2002 he had been convicted of another home burglary in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota.