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Self-checkout and shoplifting

Self-checkout and shoplifting

| Jun 11, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

Many large retail stores provide self-checkouts for the convenience of their customers. Although these devices can make it easier for people to quickly complete their shopping trip, they can also make it possible for these shoppers to exit the store without having scanned and paid for everything. As a result, many stores lose substantial amounts of money, as well as merchandise, due to shoplifting. 

Store employees might interpret a customer’s honest mistake as an attempt to steal property. As a result, someone who accidentally forgot to scan an item could end up facing arrest for shoplifting. In some cases, especially those involving repeated thefts, shoplifters may receive felony charges. 

What constitutes shoplifting? 

Shoplifting is sometimes referred to as “concealment of merchandise” or “retail theft”. Someone who shoplifts must have the intention of depriving the items’ owner of his or her possessions without paying the full purchase price. As well, the person must take possession of, or willfully conceal, the merchandise offered for sale. 

By concealing the store’s property, a shopper has broken shoplifting laws. Similarly, if he or she attempts to avoid paying the advertised full price, the shopper has engaged in illegal activity. The customer might try to repackage merchandise or alter an item’s price tag. In addition, the shopper could scan and pay for only some of the items at the self-checkout, or he or she may scan the items but skip the payment step. 

What recourse do shopkeepers have? 

In Alabama, shopkeepers have the privilege of detaining those customers that they suspect of shoplifting. A store’s owners or employees may detain a customer temporarily if probable cause exists that the customer was shoplifting. 

Simply having a suspicion that a person was shoplifting typically is not sufficient to establish probable cause. Generally, the store owner or employee must possess evidence that would cause a reasonable person to conclude that shoplifting had taken place or was in progress. 

Camera footage of someone at the checkout, for instance, could serve as evidence of shoplifting. Alternatively, it could establish that the shopper had been attempting to scan each item before leaving the store. 

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