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Intent matters when it comes to shoplifting charges

When you think about shoplifting, you might imagine some teenagers swiping a few trinkets from a local store or someone walking out of a dressing room with new clothes instead of what they went in with. Those are types of shoplifting that can happen, but there are also cases where someone accidentally forgets to put down an item or absentmindedly puts something in their bag instead of their cart.

Shoplifting crimes aren’t always intentional. That’s an important factor in a case, too, because without intention, the prosecution may not be able to get the charges to stick. The presumption of intent matters, which is what you need to learn more about.

What is the presumption of intent?

The “presumption of intent” is terminology that explains that there is a presumption that a person intended to steal an item. While some states allow shopkeepers to presume intent when they catch someone with an item that they didn’t pay for, not all do.

It is the responsibility of the retailer and prosecution to prove that the individual intended to steal based on other known facts about the case. For example, if the person walked into the store, picked up an item, put it in their pocket and walked out, it would likely be presumed that the theft was intentional. However, if a person walks in, shops for a while, checks out and then is caught with an additional item in their bag, presuming that they didn’t also intend to pay for that item would be tougher.

Intentionally hiding an item and concealing it, willfully concealing an item or working with another person to commit a theft are all situations that may lead to a presumption of intent.

What if the alleged shoplifter doesn’t have the mental capacity to intend to steal?

There have been cases where alleged shoplifters didn’t have the mental capacity to understand what they were doing. Some with mental disabilities, for example, may steal without understanding the potential for consequences.

If you’re accused of shoplifting, know that intent has to be proven. If it can’t be, then you may not need to face any consequences at all.