Accidental Shoplifting Arrest

Not everyone who conceals or removes merchandise from a store do it with the intent to steal.  Sometimes people take or conceal items by accident.

What may constitute accidental shoplifting?

  1. When shopping, items are sometimes placed under the shopping cart due to the item’s size or because the shopping cart is full, sometimes the items are overlooked.  If the item was overlooked it is possible that it is accidentally removed from the store without being paid for.
  2. A woman may place her purse on top of an item in her cart and not realize that the purse is covering the item, and leaves the store with the item after purchasing other merchandise.
  3. Someone may place their coat or sweater in the shopping cart and not realize that the coat or sweater is concealing an item.  They purchase the other items, and leave the store with the hidden item.
  4. There are instances where a person may try on an article of clothing or jewelry, become distracted, and forget that they are still wearing that article of clothing or jewelry and leave the store.
  5. Culturally, immigrants from some parts of the world may routinely place the item in a bag while in the store to carry the item, and not realize that they may be viewed as shoplifting.
  6. Sometimes a customer may be confused whether or not an item is being given out for free as a promotion or sample and take the item from the store, not realizing that it was actually for sale.
  7. Sometimes a customer may come across merchandise that does not have a price tag on it, but wants to purchase it.  The customer sees a similar item and takes the price tag from the similar item and places it on the item that he or she wants to purchase, not realizing that there is a difference in price between the two items.
  8. There may be mental health related issues (for example, dementia, legal insanity, etc.) that lead a person to take something from a store without realizing that the product wasn’t purchased.
  9. A young child may take something from a store without the parent realizing what happened.
  10. An employee of the store may forget to ring up an item, and the shopper does not realize that the item was not paid for.

In Michigan, for any shoplifting or retail fraud case that is prosecuted, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt at trial that the Defendant had the intent to steal.  If what truly happened was an accident, it is not a crime.  However, that does not mean that the case will not be prosecuted.

Why would the prosecution prosecute a case that was accidental shoplifting?  The prosecution simply may not believe that it was an accident.  The prosecution can attempt to prove a case by direct evidence and circumstantial evidence.

What is direct evidence.  Direct evidence is basically eyewitness testimony.  Testimony from people who observed an event.  The problem with direct evidence is that the eyewitness may misinterpret, or is simply wrong, about what he or she observed.

What is circumstantial evidence.  Circumstantial evidence relies on inferences to establish a fact.  For example, a person coming in from outside wearing a raincoat with drops of water on the coat may provide circumstantial evidence that it is raining outside.  The problem with circumstantial evidence is sometimes the conclusion reached based upon the inferences is wrong.

Also, the problem with direct and circumstantial evidence is that it cannot always convey a Defendant’s state of mind.  Sometimes there is more than meets the eye when viewing a situation.

If you are arrested for shoplifting, accidental or otherwise, you should always hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer that specializes in retail fraud cases.  Any lawyer will not do.  You need someone who is in your corner.  Someone who can analyze the case for what it is, and properly defend the case.  For experienced retail fraud criminal defense, my recommendation is to hire attorney Daniel Hilf of the law firm Hilf & Hilf, PLC.


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