You might scoff at the idea that someone could “accidentally shoplift” – until you mistakenly do it yourself. Maybe you had a lot on your mind while you were shopping and simply forgot to go through the checkout line. Or maybe you were shopping with your kids and failed to notice the youngest slipping a small item into your pocket or purse. Whatever the case, you may now find yourself facing retail theft charges over an honest mistake.
Although accidental shoplifting is certainly less common than intentional shoplifting, it can happen. One 72-year-old woman from San Antonio recently faced criminal charges after dropping four embroidered letters, valued at $1.29 each, into her purse at Hobby Lobby because they kept falling out of her shopping cart. Mary Ruth Monckton, who says that she is beginning to experience dementia and sometimes has trouble remembering things, ultimately pled no contest to a misdemeanor theft charge, paid a $260 fine, and went through three months of probation.
While Ms. Monckton may have pled guilty to retail theft simply to avoid the hassle of fighting the charge, it’s absurd that someone should face such a disproportionate penalty for mistakenly walking out of store with just of $5 worth of merchandise. If you are in a similar situation in which you honestly just forgot to pay for merchandise that you were carrying, you should work with a retail theft lawyer to get the charge dropped. While the fine you face might just seem like an inconvenience, a criminal record is serious—even if the charge is a misdemeanor—and can affect everything from your ability to find a job to your ability to pursue higher education.
You Accidentally Took Something without Paying: Now What?
If you unintentionally took something from an Illinois store without paying and the retailer is pressing charges, don’t panic. Retail theft laws in Illinois clearly state that you have to have knowingly taken merchandise without paying in order for it to be considered a crime. Keep in mind that you are innocent, but that you also need to take the charge against you seriously and prove that the incident was a simple mistake.
You’ll need to work with a retail theft attorney to prove that you had no intent to steal. Factors that could work in your favor might include you paying for other more expensive items on your way out of the store, a witness seeing something like an item accidentally falling into your bag or a child sneaking a small item onto your person, and no previous criminal activities on your record. In some cases, there may even be security footage that proves you did not know you were taking something without paying, although it can sometimes be hard to tell what theft is intentional and what is unintentional simply by looking at video footage.
Even if you’re worried that the evidence against you looks damning and you think it will be hard to prove your innocence, you should still consult with an attorney. A good defense lawyer should be able to look closely at the details of your case and find any evidence that could work in your favor. Ideally, your attorney will be able to prove that the theft was not committed knowingly and criminal charges against you will be dropped.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and violent crimes to theft-related crimes and traffic violations.