People can and do shoplift for any number of reasons. For example, they may have financial issues that seem to leave them with no other choice. Or perhaps they have kleptomania, or maybe they experience a thrill from shoplifting. Maybe they are young, with brains not yet fully formed and ill-equipped to deal with impulse-control issues.
But what about accidental shoplifting? Is that really a thing, and what can you do in such a case?
Yes, it happens
Yes, accidental shoplifting is a thing and may occur more often than people realize. A few scenarios: You go shopping and put several large items in your cart. You also put smaller items in your cart, they ended up inside the large items, and you did not realize that the cashier forgot to ring them up. Instead, the cashier rang up the larger items.
Or you are holding an item you plan to buy but your child throws a fit, or you get a phone call you have been waiting for and take it outside. In both cases, you have walked past the cashier and out of the store with an item you did not pay for.
Does this justification fly?
Not surprisingly, police officers and prosecutors hear many people claim, "It was an accident," or, "I did not mean to," so how successful can this type of defense be? It can be successful in many cases, especially when there is video evidence in the store to back up the customer's apparent frame of mind. Even if there is no video evidence, witness statements and a customer's behavior afterward can be telling.
Should you return to pay?
Say that you are loading up your car and realize that a cashier forgot to scan smaller items. Should you return to the store to pay, or do you risk getting arrested? In general, it is probably safe to go back to the store and to pay for the items. However, if police do get involved, decline to answer questions and contact an attorney as soon as possible.