At the Law Office of Rob McKinney in Tennessee, some clients come to us after making the unwise decision to shoplift and getting caught. Others come to us after they inadvertently forgot to pay for an item before leaving the store and security personnel accused of deliberately shoplifting. If you face shoplifting charges, you may well have a valid defense or even a counterclaim against the store for the tactics its personnel used while detaining you.
As FindLaw explains, shoplifting is one of many possible theft and/or larceny crimes. To convict you of shoplifting, the prosecutor must prove all of the following:
- That you took the property of another without permission
- That you intended to permanently deprive the property’s owner of the property you took
- Specifically, that you willfully concealed or otherwise took possession of one or more items offered for sale in the store
- Specifically, that you intended to deprive the store of this merchandise without paying for it
Unfortunately, the mere concealment of a piece of merchandise can be evidence of your intent to shoplift it. Consequently, you should make it a practice never to put merchandise in your pocket, purse or anywhere else where you may fail to see it and therefore pay for it when checking out.
You likewise should be aware that most stores today have surveillance equipment that captures and records their customers’ movements and actions while on the premises. Even lingering too long in one place or appearing to look around for surveillance cameras can later be used as evidence against you of your intention to shoplift.
In general, store owners and employees can detain and question you only if they have probable cause to believe you shoplifted something. Their mere suspicion is insufficient. And even with probable cause, they can only detain you for a reasonable period of time. In addition, they cannot blitz you with questions or insist that you confess to shoplifting and/or sign a waiver of store liability.
If a jury finds you guilty of shoplifting, your penalties will depend on the exact nature of the charges brought against you. Prosecutors have wide discretion to prosecute shoplifting as an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony depending on your alleged actions and the value of the item(s) you allegedly took. Infraction penalties generally consist of a fine only. Misdemeanor and felony penalties, on the other hand, can include a jail or prison sentence in addition to a fine.
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