What you should know about shoplifting

If you are like most people in Tennessee, you probably consider shoplifting a minor crime not worth thinking about too much. You may even hold the erroneous belief that “minor” shoplifting benefits the perpetrator while not really harming anyone else, including the affected merchant. Such misperceptions could land you in a world of hurt.

Shoplifting constitutes a form of theft crime. If you face shoplifting charges, this means that the merchant or someone in his or her employ believes that you deliberately took something from the store without paying for it or attempted to do so. In order to convict you of shoplifting, the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did all of the following:

  • Took the store’s property without permission
  • Intended to permanently deprive the store of that property
  • Willfully concealed or otherwise took possession of one or more items offered for sale in the store
  • Intended to deprive the store of this merchandise without paying for it

Concealing merchandise

If you place a small item in your pocket or purse for safekeeping before reaching the checkout counter, this act could be used against you in court as evidence of your intent to shoplift the item. Keep in mind that virtually all stores today have not only security cameras, but also employees whose job it is to roam the aisles looking for just such customer behavior. To keep from appearing suspicious, always make it a practice to keep your intended purchases in plain sight in your shopping basket or cart.

Unfortunately, lingering too long in an aisle while you make up your mind as to which items you want to buy also constitutes suspicious behavior. If possible, you should always shop with a list so as to minimize the time you spend in any given store or its various aisles.

In-store detention

You should also keep in mind that the law allows a store’s employees to detain you if they have probable cause to believe that you attempted to shoplift. They can therefore accost you both in the store and in its parking lot. They cannot, however, hold you against your will for an inordinate amount of time. Nor can they subject you to harsh, threatening or never-ending questions.

Shoplifting penalties

If a judge or jury convicts you of shoplifting, the penalties you face will depend on exactly what you took and its value. In general, the penalties for an infraction or misdemeanor crime consist of restitution and/or a fine only. Penalties for a felony conviction, however, include possible jail or prison time as well as restitution and fines.

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