April 1, 2010

I was accused of shoplifting in the store at a truck stop.  Let me quote President Richard Nixon here; “I am not a crook”.  I did not shoplift but they called the cops and they called my company.  Now I have a ticket and my boss wants me to bring the truck to the terminal for a talk, which I am on my way to do.  What can I do?

The good news is that shoplifting is considered theft or larceny and any conviction will appear on your criminal record not your CDL.  In legal language that means an unlawful taking of the property of another, and in plain language it means stealing merchandise offered for sale by a retailer.

Shoplifting laws vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  Conviction may result in large fines, jail time, community service, drug and alcohol evaluation and even more for repeat offenders.  Retailers and law enforcement often will pursue shoplifting violations to the full extent of the law as a detriment to potential shoplifters.

Billions of dollars are lost each year to shoplifting.  So every time a thief steals something from a retailer the retailer must increase his merchandise price to you to cover the loss.  The net result is every family in America pays an additional $435 dollars to purchase items to cover the annual $42.2 billion dollar loss to shoplifting according to the CNN Money report of November 11, 2009.

There are usually two elements of the crime shoplifting; (1) willfully taking or concealing merchandise that has not been purchased and, (2) the intent to convert the merchandise for personal use without paying the purchase price.  Any act of covering an object to keep it out of sight of the merchant or hiding the object constitutes the element of concealment element of the crime.  Circumstantial evidence may be used by the prosecutor such as lack of money to pay for the object or the demeanor while in the store.

Retailers may, in most states, detain a suspect if they have probable cause.  Probable Cause in shoplifting laws is having a direct knowledge of an offender’s approach, selection, concealment, movement, and/or modification of an item, and the offender’s failure to pay before attempting to exit the store.  Usually the first thing that happens to the shoplifter is they must return the items to the store and are banned from the store for a period of time in addition to prosecution for the crime.
Prosecuting shoplifters is usually a very easy win for the government thanks to video surveillance the vast majority of stores now have.  He has the video, witnesses such as the security personnel, store employees and even the customers.  The prosecutor may file either petty theft or petty larceny, (both are misdemeanors), or even felony grand theft if the price of the object is expensive, usually over $300 to $500 depending upon the jurisdiction.

As an example of state laws, here is the Theft Law for Oklahoma:
§21-1731. Larceny of merchandise from retailer or wholesaler
Larceny of merchandise held for sale in retail or wholesale establishments shall be punishable as follows:
1. For the first conviction, in the event the value of the goods, edible meat or other corporeal property which has been taken is less than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), the violator shall be punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not exceeding thirty (30) days, and by a fine not less than Ten Dollars ($10.00) nor more than Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00); provided for the first conviction, in the event more than one item of goods, edible meat or other corporeal property has been taken, punishment shall be by imprisonment in the county jail for a term not to exceed thirty (30) days, and by a fine not less than ($50.00) nor more than ($500.00).

However, criminal prosecution of the shoplifter is not necessary in most states to allow the retailer to file a civil demand or civil recovery to help the retailer regain his shoplifting losses.  The retailer, or his attorney, will send a Demand Letter for compensation of their losses and costs.  If the shoplifter fails to respond to the letter, then they can file a civil claim in Small Claims Court and if they win receive a Default Judgment which entitles them to have and Asset Hearing on your assets and then the Judge can even Order the Sheriff the seize your property and sell it to pay the Judgment.

Not all the cards are stacked in favor of retailers.  If a retailer accuses someone of shoplifting and they are acquitted, then they can make civil claims against the retailer for negligence, emotional distress, false imprisonment if the retailer detained the person.

The bad news is your boss may be able to legally terminate you, especially if you deliver to homes, for getting convicted of a crime if it is against the company policy, for example getting into Canada.  You may also be prohibited from returning into any of the truck stop stores all across the country which could cause a problem for you if you are required to purchase fuel there by the company.  Remember, this requires a conviction so you need to hire a criminal attorney quickly to assist you.  Talk to the attorney BEFORE you talk to your boss as he may be called to testify against you if you admit the crime.

You can contact Jim C. Klepper at or

The information, advice and opinions in Legal Lane are entirely those of Jim C. Klepper.