Shoplifting is one of the most common crimes in America. And with self-checkouts becoming increasingly common in all types of retail and grocery stores, shoplifting continues to rise by 10% a year. Due to the minimal human oversight at these stations, it’s easy for someone to make a mistake and be accused of retail theft.
Perhaps you forgot to scan an item or entered the wrong quantity. If this happens, it’s understandable to try to explain the situation. Just remember that stores want to discourage shoplifting, and you could make the situation worse. If you’ve been accused of shoplifting at a self-checkout, you should know what to expect and work with an experienced Cincinnati criminal defense attorney to resolve the issue correctly.
Charged with Shoplifting while Using Self-Checkout?
Shoplifting is the unauthorized removal of merchandise from a store without paying for it. This can also include:
- Altering a price tag
- Removing (or trying to remove) security tags or theft-prevention devices
- Hiding or concealing an item on your person while still in the store
- Removing an item from its packaging and concealing it with other merchandise
At first glance, you may think shoplifting accusations could only be levied against people blatantly stealing, but self-checkouts are changing that. Self-checkout systems are becoming increasingly popular, and while they provide customers with a quick and convenient way to purchase their items, there are some common scenarios in which someone could be accused of shoplifting at self-checkout:
- Forgetting to scan an item: It’s common for shoppers to accidentally forget to scan an object or mistakenly scan it as a lower-priced item. While this is not intentional theft, it can still lead to accusations of shoplifting.
- System errors: Self-checkout systems can sometimes have technical glitches, such as failing to register an item that was scanned or charging the wrong price. These errors can lead to accusations of shoplifting, even if the shopper did nothing wrong.
- Bagging errors: Self-checkout systems require shoppers to bag their own items, and sometimes mistakes can be made. For example, a shopper may put an item in the wrong bag or accidentally place it in their purse or backpack instead of in a bag. These mistakes can lead to accusations of shoplifting.
- Deliberate theft: Unfortunately, some people may intentionally try to steal items by scanning only a few things and bagging more. They may also use methods such as placing an item in their pocket or hiding it in their clothing.
Shoppers need to be aware of these scenarios and take steps to avoid any misunderstandings or accusations of shoplifting. This includes carefully scanning each item, checking the prices and quantities, and ensuring all items are correctly bagged. Shoppers should alert a store employee for assistance if there are any issues or errors.
Shoplifting at Self-Checkout Penalties & Consequences
Shoplifting is typically charged as misdemeanor theft as long as the amount allegedly taken is under $1,000. Charges increase when the value is higher. Even as a misdemeanor, being convicted of shoplifting at a self-checkout can result in serious legal, civil, and personal consequences.
Legal Penalties for Shoplifting
- A Criminal record: Even if you avoid jail time for a first offense of shoplifting, a conviction in Ohio will result in a criminal record, which can be accessed by employers, landlords, and others.
- Fines: The court may impose fines, ranging from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the value of the stolen merchandise.
- Time in Custody: The court may sentence the offender to jail or prison depending on the value of the stolen merchandise and other factors. A shoplifting conviction may also require a mandatory diversion program, probation, and/or community service.
Civil Consequences for Shoplifting
- Civil liability: The shoplifter may be sued by the retailer for damages, including the value of the stolen merchandise and any other losses incurred by the retailer due to the theft.
- Restitution: The court may order the shoplifter to pay restitution to the retailer to cover the cost of the stolen merchandise and any other losses.
Other Negative Effects
- Loss of reputation: A shoplifting conviction can damage a person’s reputation, making it difficult to find employment or housing.
- Difficulty obtaining credit: A criminal record can make it challenging to get loans, as lenders may view the offender as a higher risk.
- Immigration consequences: A shoplifting conviction can have severe consequences for non-citizens, including deportation or inadmissibility.
What if You’re Charged with Shoplifting at Self-Checkout?
If you’re accused of shoplifting at a self-checkout, we know it can be frustrating and embarrassing to be accused of stealing. Here are some things you can do to protect your legal rights and ensure a fair outcome.
Remain Calm and Don’t Resist or Argue with Store Personnel
Don’t make a scene, even if you think it’s a misunderstanding. And remember, police and store employees can detain you while trying to figure out what’s happening. Here’s more about what loss prevention officers can do if they suspect shoplifting.
Understand Your Legal Rights
You don’t have to spill your guts while things are happening. You still have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. So, keep quiet and ask for a lawyer if you’re arrested.
Hire a Criminal Defense Attorney
Again, stay silent and let the pros handle everything. Your attorney will know how to give you the best defense possible.
Gather Evidence and Information
Get everything you can to support your case. This includes receipts, witness testimonies, and video surveillance. Your lawyer can also help you with this.
What Stores Can Do If They Suspect Shoplifting
In Ohio, businesses have a degree of legal flexibility in what they can do if they suspect you of shoplifting.
- They Can Watch You – Stores can have employees follow you, watch you at checkout, and keep an eye on you through video surveillance.
- They Can Approach and Question You – A store employee can come up and question you. This includes asking to see your receipt and looking inside your bag.
- They Can Detain You – Store employees can prevent you from leaving. And if they have hired security, they can detain, cuff, and search you.
How To Reduce Mistakes & Unnecessary Shoplifting Charges?
There are steps both customers and stores can take to reduce shoplifting.
- Be Sure to Scan Everything – Pay attention to your cart and ensure you don’t miss any items. And check your cart frequently so something doesn’t fall in a corner and does not end up on the counter.
- Pay Attention to Prices – If something displays a much lower price when scanned, ask an employee. Someone else might have switched the tag, and now you’re the one who looks guilty.
- Employ RFID in Stores – Radio frequency Identification (RFID) tags allow items to be tracked throughout a store. And with the right technology, an item can be charged as a customer leaves a store.
- Buy Self-Checkout Kiosks with Scales – Some companies put scales on their kiosks that weigh items placed on the scanner and how much is bagged.
Contact the Shoplifting Criminal Defense Attorneys
Whether we like it or not, self-checkout systems are here to stay, but we must be careful so misunderstandings don’t become complicated and expensive legal matters. But if you are ever accused of shoplifting, regardless of how it happened, you need to take the charges seriously. And work with an experienced attorney.
The Cincinnati Criminal Defense at Luftman, Heck & Associates LLP is here to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us, call (513) 338-1890 or reach out online for a free and confidential initial consultation.