Perhaps you went shopping for a dress to wear to your favorite cousin’s wedding. You visited several shops before finding what you wanted.

Someone claimed to see you walk out of the last shop with merchandise you did not pay for. What happens now?

Different states, different laws

Shoplifting is most often a misdemeanor criminal charge, but it can be a felony depending on how much merchandise is taken. The laws are different in different states. In Illinois, for example, if stolen merchandise has a value of less than $150, it is a Class A misdemeanor. However, theft of the same merchandise “by emergency exit of property,” is a Class A felony.

Missouri law emphasizes that the shoplifter is civilly liable to the store owner and must pay damages plus a penalty of not less than $100 plus court costs and attorney fees.

What shoplifting includes

Shoplifting involves removing without payment any merchandise displayed or offered for sale. A shoplifter could also remove a label, price tag or anything related to the value of the item so as to purchase it for less, which would then deprive the store owner of full retail value.

Removing a shopping cart from the premises with the intention of keeping it for personal use also falls under the heading of shoplifting.

In your defense

There may be a lack of evidence against you as a shoplifter. The witness who claims you left the store without paying for merchandise may have mistaken you for someone else. Lack of intent can also be a defense; that is, the prosecution would have to prove that you left the store without paying intentionally. In other words, if you are facing an accusation of shoplifting, where is the proof?

Explore your legal options. You do not have to deal with a theft accusation alone. No doubt, you would rather think about the upcoming wedding than a criminal charge that brought an embarrassing end to an otherwise enjoyable shopping trip.