What Qualifies as Shoplifting?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 19, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Shoplifting. Almost everyone tries it once, but only some get caught.

However this statement fits into your life, the truth is that what you think you know about shoplifting is probably not the entire picture.

The crime may seem fairly cut and dry, but the fact is that it's not.

Though shoplifting generally refers to the theft of merchandise from a retailer, it's actually a type of larceny. What this means is that, in order to be prosecuted for shoplifting, there needs to be evidence of intent.

Shoplifting is thus usually defined as:

  1. Willfully taking possession of goods being offered for sale
  2. With the intent to deprive the rightful owner of possession without paying the purchase price.

It's rare that there's any question of willful possession, meaning that most shoplifting cases focus on intent.

Intent can be shown in a myriad of ways, but most often is demonstrated by a person's actions.

For one, many states consider the act of concealing an item sufficient enough evidence of intent. Others may also include the act of altering a price tag, as it demonstrates an intent to not pay the full purchase price.

But what about those of you who have accidentally walked out of a store without paying? Were you shoplifting?

Well, it depends. If you forgot to take off an item of clothing or jewelry, it might be construed as an attempt to conceal if it was hidden under your hair or clothing. And if you ate a 99 cent hot dog before paying, according to prosecutors in Washington, you concealed that hot dog in your stomach.

It doesn't make much sense, but the basic conclusion is that, even if you didn't actually intend to shoplift, you may have legally intended to shoplift. If this is the case, be sure to call an attorney.

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