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Is It Possible To Shoplift Accidentally?

People make mistakes. For one Alabama man, a simple mistake led to criminal charges and a legal battle that has now gone on for five years.

A Simple Misunderstanding And A Serious Criminal Charge

According to an article from WSFA news, the man was shopping for plumbing supplies. He put a handful of screws in his pocket and then continued to look for other items. While he paid for other items, he forgot the screws - valued at just over $2 - were in his pocket and walked out of the store without paying for them. He immediately admitted to his mistake when store security stopped him and offered to pay for the items, but instead was arrested for shoplifting. All over what he claims to be a simple accident.

The man has fought the charges, not for fear of the penalties, but because he states he is a law-abiding citizen with nothing more than a couple of traffic tickets on his record. He does not want this shoplifting charge associated with his name.

The Issue Of Intent

Under Alabama law, shoplifting is considered theft of property, which is defined as when a person "knowingly obtains or exerts unauthorized control over the property of another, with intent to deprive the owner of his or her property."

There are two key words in this definition that apply to this case: "knowingly" and "intent." According to the man in this shoplifting case, he did not knowingly obtain or exert unauthorized control, nor did he intend to deprive the owner of property.

So why was he still charged and why is the case still ongoing? That is where the challenge is. Does the commission of the act itself prove intent? Is that sufficient to fulfill the prosecution's burden of proof? How does a defendant show that he or she did not knowingly shoplift, other than giving his or her word?

These are difficult questions, and the real answer is that someone accused of shoplifting, a theft crime or any other criminal offense should enlist an attorney with the experience to carefully review the situation and come up with the appropriate criminal defense strategy.

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