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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 ?
We have a number of tools at our disposal to catch shoplifters, stores now have good quality CCTV cameras, security staff and security posts and we continue to work with retailers.
Mr Hunt said: "I just wanted to make a stand against the shoplifters and let the community know that we are doing something about the problem.
A SUSPECTED shoplifter turns Good Samaritan as he helps a wobbly-legged, inebriated mate across Borough Road -and almost gets them run over.
The survey found that an average shoplifter takes goods worth pounds 80.
PREVENTION: Police chat with shoppers on the streets of Huddersfield while targeting pickpockets and shoplifters in a crackdown
BRC director general Kevin Hawkins said: "The average shoplifter makes off with pounds 149 of goods every time they steal.
And the research corroborates earlier findings that CCTV and electronic article surveillance are often ignored by professional shoplifters.
Store bosses worked closely with Lothian and Borders Police so that they knew the tactics of shoplifters.
The programme meets one shoplifter who reveals why it can be addictive - the buzz is "as good as having sex, " she says.
A rogues' gallery of about 650 prolific shoplifters who are banned from city centre shops has already been compiled by the unit.
Shoplifters, who police believe are trying to pay for drug habits, have been stealing expensive brand liquors at supermarkets and selling them with no questions asked to liquor store owners, said Sgt.