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Can I Get Arrested for Accidental Shoplifting?

Can I Get Arrested for Accidental Shoplifting?

Can I Get Arrested for Accidental Shoplifting in South Carolina?

While many people assume that being charged with a crime only happens to bad or guilty people, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Good and well-meaning people get charged with criminal offenses every day, making it all the more important for South Carolina residents to familiarize themselves with criminal laws and procedures to avoid unintended legal consequences.

Shoplifting is a common crime that many people are accused of, but not all are guilty of committing. Is it possible to go to jail for accidentally stealing merchandise in South Carolina? Keep reading to learn more about criminal penalties for shoplifting—accidentally or otherwise.

What Constitutes Shoplifting in South Carolina?

Shoplifting, one of the most common property crimes in South Carolina, is a serious offense that goes beyond merely taking an item without paying for it. Under South Carolina Code § 16-13-110, an individual can be charged with shoplifting if they:

  1. Take possession of, carry away, transfer or cause to be carried away or transferred, any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value;
  2. Alter, transfer, or remove any label, price tag marking, indicia of value or any other markings which aid in determining value affixed to any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale in a store or other retail mercantile establishment and attempt to purchase such merchandise personally or in consort with another at less than the full retail value with the intention of depriving the merchant of all or some part of the value of such merchandise; or
  3. Transfer any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment from the container in or on which the same shall be displayed to any other container with intent to deprive the merchant of all or some part of the retail value thereof.

The criminal penalties for shoplifting in South Carolina are based on the total value of the merchandise involved and can be broken down as follows:

  • If the total value is $2,000 or less, it is classified as a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.
  • If the total value is between $2,000 to $10,000, this is considered a felony offense punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to $1,000 in fines.
  • If the total value is more than $10,000, this is a felony offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

It's worth mentioning that these criminal penalties can be enhanced if certain extenuating factors apply, such as having prior offenses on your record.

Understanding Criminal Intent

Unintentional shoplifting can occur due to various circumstances. It’s essential for consumers in SC to understand and recognize common scenarios that can put them at risk of unintended legal consequences and wrongful accusations, such as:

  • Malfunctioning theft detection systems – Faulty or improperly calibrated anti-theft devices can result in false alarms while shopping in retail stores and other places of business, leading to unjust accusations.
  • Items accidentally left in shopping carts or pockets – People may unintentionally leave merchandise in their shopping carts or pockets, forgetting to pay for them before leaving the store.
  • Shopping with children – Through no fault of their own, many kids have “sticky fingers” in stores, especially at certain ages. This can permit them to sneakily swipe some items off shelves or passing carts without their guardian noticing, potentially leading to wrongful accusations later on.

If you’ve been accused of shoplifting, it is crucial to seek sound counsel from a qualified criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can guide your steps throughout the legal process and fortify your case with relevant evidence to fight for the just outcome you deserve.

Legal Defenses Against Shoplifting Charges

There are various ways to defend against shoplifting charges in South Carolina. Common legal approaches include:

  • Lack of intent – This defense is generally ideal for cases of accidental shoplifting. The “intent” to permanently deprive the merchant of the merchandise is a crucial element of a criminal conviction for shoplifting. If the defense can establish that there was no intent to steal, it can weaken the prosecution's case.
  • Mistaken identity – In cases where there is no clear evidence linking the defendant to the shoplifting incident, a mistaken identity defense can be raised.
  • Coerced actions – If the defendant can prove that they were forced or coerced into committing the act of shoplifting, it may provide a valid defense.
  • Insufficient evidence – The defense can challenge the sufficiency of the evidence presented by the prosecution, such as the lack of surveillance footage or unreliable witness testimony.
  • Constitutional violations – If law enforcement officers violated the defendant's constitutional rights during the arrest or search and seizure process, it can be grounds for dismissing the case.

Aggressive Advocacy for the Accused in Lexington

Whether you were unaware of committing an illegal act or simply made an honest mistake, our criminal defense firm has the in-depth legal knowledge and skillset to defend your rights in South Carolina. If you’ve been accused of a crime, it’s imperative to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to avoid life-altering criminal repercussions, including prison time and backbreaking fines. Whether you’re preparing to face DUI charges or defend against a white-collar crime, don’t settle for less than a superior defense from the Law Office of James R. Snell, Jr., LLC.

Accused of a crime in SC? Turn to a fierce Lexington attorney who will fight relentlessly for your freedom. Call (803) 359-3301 to schedule a consultation


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