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How to Defend Against a Shoplifting Charge

Shoplifting is an embarrassing accusation with surprisingly steep penalties. Not only does it affect you legally, but it can also harm your reputation and even your employment. If you’ve been accused of shoplifting, don’t allow yourself to simply take the penalties. Remember that you have a legal right to a defense, and you should use that right to maintain your freedom and innocence.

Defining Shoplifting

Before you can successfully defend against an accusation, it’s important to know exactly what you’re being accused of. We all know that holding a store at gunpoint wouldn’t count as shoplifting, but why? What, exactly, defines the charge?

By law, shoplifting is defined as concealing an item from a business with no intent to return it. Take note of the three major components: a business, concealment, and intent to keep the item. Taking a knick-knack from a friend’s home is not shoplifting. Neither is openly, brazenly carrying an item out of a store. Knowing the details always helps in a criminal defense.

Ohio’s Shoplifting Penalties

The state is hard on shoplifters, even if the stolen item has little value. For any item under $1,000 in value, a shoplifter can face six months in jail, fines up to $1,000, and a possible probation of up to five years. At this level, shoplifting is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Penalties get more severe as the value of the item increases. For items over $1,000, shoplifting is a felony charge. If convicted, a person could face one year of incarceration and fines as high as $2,500.

Charges are even more severe if the item is valued at over $7,500. Such cases are rare, however.

Defenses Against Shoplifting

If you’ve been accused of shoplifting, here are some defense strategies you can discuss with your attorney.

“I Was Unaware That I Had the Item”

Imagine a dad taking his three boys to the grocery store. There is a lot to manage. He has his list of items, which can be difficult to check and fulfill. Then he has the boys, who he must wrangle in. They want to run down the aisles, beg for different products, jump around, and play. In his confusion, the dad accidentally pockets a couple items, not realizing he’d done so. If he leaves the store with those items concealed, he could be accused of shoplifting.

In situations like these, people should not be penalized for technicalities. Part of a prosecutor’s job is to prove intent, or committing a crime on purpose. It can be easy to poke holes in the case against you when you weren’t even aware you had taken something.

“The Item Wasn’t Concealed”

Remember, concealment is a crucial component of any shoplifting charge. Picture someone brazenly, openly holding an item and walking out of the store with it. Now try to make an argument that they stole the item on purpose. It’s not an easy case to make. Most people know that stealing is wrong, and they try to be sneaky about it.

If you were obviously carrying an item in plain view and walked out of the store, it was probably an absent-minded mistake. You could have been tired from work, recovering from a cold, or maybe a little drunk. You may have gotten all the way home before realizing what happened. People who make such mistakes should not be jailed or charged high fines.

“I Meant to Bring it Back”

It’s often easy to put items on the bottom rack of a shopping cart and walk right out the door with them. You normally don’t notice that it happened until you get back to your car. Looking down, you see the items and think, “Oops. Better take these back.” On your way to return them, you’re stopped by security.

This is another time when intent is important to both an accusation and a defense. Shoplifting, if you’ll recall, involves the intent to keep the item. If you planned to bring something back and were arrested before you could, this is a reasonable defense against your charges.

“It Wasn’t Me”

There are several ways in which someone could be misidentified in a shoplifting accusation. Think of a busy store during the holidays. There are plenty of people in the store that fit your description. Maybe someone did commit the crime, but it wasn’t you.

Eyewitnesses are often wrong. Something as simple as the angle of their view can skew their perspective. Think of a person crouching, looking at prices, then looking up to see a shoplifter leaving. Because of their upward angle, they could misread someone’s height against the door’s measuring tape. Security footage isn’t always reliable, either. It is often grainy and taken at odd angles, allowing for the wrong person to be accused.

Even the security sensors at the door can be wrong. If you, for instance, leave right when a shoplifter does, you could be blamed for setting off the alarm.

If you’ve been accused of shoplifting, our firm has many competent, sound strategies it can use to help you in court. Call us today at (937) 403-9033 for a free consultation, or contact us online.