Shoplifting defenses: 3 common responses to a shoplifting charge

Most people view a shoplifting allegation in white and black: The defendant, and perhaps that person is you, either (1) shoplifted the items in question or (2) the defendant did not shoplift the items in question.

However, the law is never white and black. The unique facts and circumstances of a criminal case bring in multiple shades of gray, no matter what the situation. For example, let's say the defendant's family was starving and he or she needed to steal something to feed them. Although the person will be guilty, the court may have more understanding for someone in this kind of dire situation. Every case is much more complicated than simply answering the question: Did the defendant do it?

3 options for a shoplifting defense

Directly challenge the charge of shoplifting. For a shoplifting conviction to occur, the prosecution has to prove two things beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) the intentional possession or concealment of something for sale, and (2) the intent to deprive the store owner permanently of the item in question without paying the price requested. In both these cases, the notion of "intent" is vital for a conviction to occur. By attacking "intent," defendants may be able to prevent the conviction from occurring. Perhaps, for example, you slipped the item in your backpack because your hands were full, but you intended to pay for it. Perhaps you simply forgot to pay for the item absentmindedly. Or, you returned to the store as soon as you discovered your mistake.

Challenge the testimony from witnesses or video evidence. Sometimes surveillance video evidence is used to prove that someone stole an item, and a defendant might challenge the veracity of this evidence if the video is ambiguous or unclear. Other times, an eyewitness will testify against the defendant, but the defendant can show that his or her testimony is biased, unreliable, based on racism or simply false.

Negotiate a plea bargain. If it appears that a conviction is likely, the defendant can negotiate a plea bargain with the defense in which he or she pleads guilty to certain charges but in exchange for a reduction in the severity of punishment.

Consider your defense options carefully

When considering the shoplifting defense options available to you, it's important to stay realistic while considering the various strategies you can employ. The ultimate goal in any criminal defense is to strategically pursue a defense that will -- as much as possible -- lessen the chances and/or severity of punishments in your case.

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