Shoplifting: Where Is The Justice?
Shoplifting: Where Is The Justice?; Criminal Statutes, Punish the
Offender, Theft, Criminal Conversion, Prosecuting Attorney, Trial, Plea
Agreement, Prove Intent
Most people are unaware that there are no criminal statutes known
as 'shoplifting' or 'stealing'; they are simply terms used to
describe the act. If this is the case, then how do we get justice and
punish the offender?
In criminal court, for the Prosecuting Attorney's Office to prove that a theft or criminal
conversion has taken place, certain specific elements of the crime must
be established beyond a reasonable doubt during trial.
The defendant is commonly represented by counsel, either public or self-retained,
and a plea agreement is reached with the Prosecuting Attorney's Office
prior to trial. If the defendant has prior criminal convictions, or the
alleged crime was egregious in any way, the terms of the plea agreement
should reflect that fact.
How to Succeed in Prosecuting Shoplifting
If the case does reach court, a common defense is challenging the prosecution's efforts to
prove 'intent'. It is typically necessary that the item has been
removed past the last point of purchase (normally the P.O.S. terminal or
cash register) before the critical element, 'intent', is established.
'Intent' has been defined by Webster as the "state of mind in which one
commits an illegal act, and the character which the law imputes to such
There are many variables to conducting the successful
apprehension of a suspected shoplifter. All management and employees should receive recurrent
training on approved standards and techniques for deterring shoplifting
and also be thoroughly trained how to conduct a 'good stop' or
successful shoplifting apprehension. Competent and consistent
execution, accurate and thorough documentation and prompt, appropriate
communication are all required from store personnel for a case to
eventually be successful in criminal court.
In many cases it is not enough that an employee witnessed an individual conceal the item on his
person in the middle of the store. If the suspected thief is stopped
before he or she passes the last point of purchase, the element of
'intent' may be difficult to establish. Technically speaking, theft
hasn't actually occurred. The police may not respond in this instance
and could simply take a report over the phone from someone representing
This situation presents the potential for trouble with the
suspect and can become complicated for the retail business. Measures
you can take to help prevent this situation include:
Store personnel responding to a shoplifting incident should be trained to comply with
company policy and still remain prepared for any response from the
suspect. The most critical period occurs when the suspect is initially
confronted and when attempting to escort the suspect to the designated
Store employee's actions in responding to the issue should
be consistent, restrained and based on substantiated information. The facts surrounding how the item in question was
recovered and what was said by the suspect, as well as store management
and employees during the apprehension are important. Any verbal
admission from the suspect is valuable and should be documented.
written admission statement would be optimal, provided the document
acknowledges the suspect's guilt and includes sufficient detail, store
name, item stolen, time, date, etc. Any documentation or written
admission statements obtained should be secured and copies should be
provided to law enforcement as required.
Shoplifting: Staying on the Right Side of the Law
If the suspect is injured during apprehension, if the court case is unsuccessful, or if
the suspect's rights were violated, the business could find itself in a
defendant's role against charges of false arrest, assault, battery,
defamation of character or any number of contentions by the 'victim' of
your well-intentioned staff.
In fact, there are individuals who have made a career out of
intentionally acting suspiciously like shoplifters in the hope they
will be stopped improperly so they can bring suit
against the business that made the apprehension.
businesses enter into a settlement with these con-artists to avoid
negative publicity and/or long, drawn out court cases which are
expensive whether the business wins or loses.
The best way to prevent these situations from occurring is to:
- Have a sound policy
- Train your
- Execute properly
- Document thoroughly
- Cooperate with law enforcement and the prosecutor's
office when requested
Shoplifting will never be completely
eliminated, but it can be deterred and decreased with appropriate effort
and professional loss prevention know-how. For information about
bringing this know-how to your company, call 317-363-8312, send email to
info@SummitLossPrevention.com. or submit the short form below: