Everyone knows what shoplifting is, right? It’s when you take merchandise from a store, with the intention of keeping it, without paying for it. It’s one of the most common charges for which our clients seek representation. But rarely do these clients fit within the generic mold of shoplifting. Sometimes they don’t understand why they’ve been charged with shoplifting. Often they never even left the store with the item or items they’re alleged to have stolen.
That’s because Georgia’s shoplifting law contemplates more than just taking merchandise from a store without paying for it. Under O.C.G.A. § 16-8-14, you can be arrested for shoplifting merely by concealing merchandise while in a store. That could be as simple as picking up a small item, like a tube of lipstick, and putting it in your pocket while you walk around a store. Another scenario I’ve seen, and one that was harder to defend, was a shopper apprehended for filling a small trashcan with makeup items and toting it in a buggy around the store.
You can also be arrested for shoplifting by altering or switching the price tags on merchandise, transferring merchandise from one container to another or wrongfully causing the amount paid to be less than the merchant’s stated price. In short, when it comes to shoplifting, any act interpreted by law enforcement as an act of deception against a store can serve as probable cause to arrest you.
As you may have noticed in your local Target or Wal-Mart, self-checkout lines have become increasingly common over the last few years. The more common-place they become, the more often I encounter clients arrested for shoplifting at self-checkout lines. Here’s a typical scenario:
- Shopper approaches self-checkout line with buggy or hand-held basket full of numerous items
- Shopper scans items and places them in the provided shopping bags
- After scanning 3 or 4 items, shopper experiences a technical glitch with the self-checkout machine in which an item they thought was successfully scanned was in fact not scanned before the shopper places it in a provided shopping bag
- Shopper completes the transaction by paying for items
- Shopper gathers the shopping bags full of items they believe have been paid for and approaches the store exit
- They are then apprehended at the exit for shoplifting due to the improperly scanned item or items
This could happen to anyone. My advice to you is if you decide to use a self-checkout line, take your time in scanning each item. Do not ignore any technical errors: call for the assistance of a store employee immediately. As I said earlier, any act interpreted by law enforcement as an act of deception is enough to be arrested for shoplifting.
I know we all use self-checkout to save time. But be sure to take your time when scanning items, otherwise you could find yourself facing prosecution for shoplifting. If you or someone you know has been charged with shoplifting contact our office today for a free consultation.
by Sarah Armstrong