Retail Theft: Why People Do it and the Potential Consequences
Retail theft, also known as shoplifting, falls into the broader category of property crimes, which is defined as a crime that involves the stealing or destruction of another person’s property. The consequences of retail theft include being found guilty of a property crime, and depend on the severity of the crime and the criminal record — or lack thereof — of the person who committed the crime.
Most occurrences are as unique as the people committing them. If you have been accused of shoplifting or retail theft, you should contact an experienced attorney who can explain your rights and assist you in the defense of the claims laid against you by the State.
Why Retail Theft?
One out of every 11 Americans shoplifts. The vast majority of shoplifters — 85 percent — are not doing it out of necessity; rather, they can’t help themselves.
The large number of people committing retail theft means that the “face” of the shoplifter is not defined. It’s not defined by gender, race, income, age or profession. Some reasons why a person might shoplift include:
- Emotional needs – Many studies conclude that loss triggers the urge to shoplift, whether it’s the loss of a job, a friendship or a once strong intimate relationship. People caught shoplifting often admit they feel unjustly deprived in some way and are looking for “symbolic compensation.” In fact, doctors, nurses and police officers— people who experience loss on a frequent or even daily basis — are involved in retail theft more frequently than members of any other professions.
- Depression – Nearly one out of every three shoplifters experiences depression. Retail theft can bring relief, although temporary, and can provide a sense of power.
- Kleptomania – Considered a mental disorder in the “Impulse Disorder” category, kleptomania can be diagnosed if you demonstrate some behaviors or characteristics such as “Recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or their monetary value,” and “Increasing sense of tension immediately before committing the theft.”
- Peer pressure – Younger people who commit retail theft commonly experience peer pressure, which can be either direct — hearing “You gotta do it” from a friend or acquaintance — or indirect — feeling the need to demonstrate they’re above the law or brave.
- Desire for an item – What do you think the most shoplifted items are? Electronics? Jewelry? Clothing? According to the National Retail Federation, the most shoplifted items in the U.S. include chewing gum, Advil, Red Bull, Cover Girl makeup and deodorant. All these items are easy to access (and steal) in stores and are functional in most people’s daily lives. The desire for an item, and the immediate gratification of retail theft, can be a motivating factor to shoplift.
- Lack of money to buy an item – About 15 percent of people who shoplift do it out of economic need. They’ll steal items such as food, diapers and children’s clothing.
Consequences of Retail Theft
If you’re caught during or after the act of retail theft, you can face several penalties, including:
- Community service
- Jail time
Is shoplifting a felony? It could be, depending on the state the crime is committed in and the items stolen. In North Carolina, the charge and penalty are based on the value of the items that have been shoplifted. If the items stolen are valued at $1,000 or more, or the crime involves a firearm or tampering with anti-theft devices, the crime is considered a felony. For the most part, if the value of the item/s is under $1,000, the crime is considered a misdemeanor offense.
The consequences of a shoplifting/retail theft conviction can vary widely. This alone makes it important for someone who has been accused of shoplifting to have an experienced criminal defense attorney on their side. A conviction for shoplifting can end up with a sentence of one day to 25 months of jail time depending on the items shoplifted, the number of prior convictions and the type of item shoplifted.
An additional consequence of a shoplifting/theft conviction is that a judge can order the defendant to pay restitution, fines, and court costs.
If you need a property crimes attorney to help you understand more about the charge of retail theft, or for representation, contact us for a consultation.