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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 ?
Shop theft costs TJ Morris an estimated 6m [pounds sterling] a year and the discounter, which has 190 stores, hopes its Crime Busters initiative will help to catch suspected criminals and discourage others from shoplifting.
Insp Chris McKeogh, who heads the city centre sector, said: "We have an average of 100 shop thefts a month in the city centre alone, and it takes an officer about four hours to deal with each offender.
If you have any information which might trap the four-second shoplifter, or any may help police in any other way, contact the Shop Theft Squad at Digbeth police station: 0121 626 6125.
Reece Gray, 23, and Liam Rooney, 28, appeared at Teesside Magistrates' Court charged with robbery, possession of a bladed article and shop theft.
Appeal after sweets stolen POLICE want to speak to this man in connection with a shop theft.
Thefts from Shops, a 10-minute Bill introduced by Tory MP Anne McIntosh, is seeking to amend the guidance used by the police to deal with shop theft.
Tony Jopson, pictured, is BCD's new crime reduction manager, tasked with forging a stronger alliance between retailers in the city and liaising with Merseyside Police and other agencies to improve the approach in dealing with shop theft.
A MAN swore at magistrates when they jailed him for a shop theft.
During November and December last year, there were more than 1,500 shop theft offences across Tyne and Wear and Northumberland.
In a 12-month period from April 2013, the partnership has achieved a 17% reduction in the number of shop theft offences.