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What’s the Difference Between Shoplifting and Stealing?

If you want to know the difference between shoplifting and stealing, keep reading this blog. Both shoplifting and stealing are crimes. Both will be punishable by the law after the perpetrator is caught and convicted. But there are differences between the two, and how they’re enforced. Knowing this can determine the fines for the perpetrator afterward. It will determine how long jail time will be, if the crime committed is serious enough. Both will depend on the items that were stolen, and who or where they were stolen from. It will also be important to determine how the incident happened in the courtroom.

Shoplifting and stealing are both terms used to describe violation of the theft statute. Shoplifting is the stealing of an item in a store. For example, shoplifting is when a customer goes through the self-checkout at Walmart and intentionally fails to scan all the items, then passes all points of sale. She would get charged under the theft statute, although we casually refer to the action as shoplifting or stealing. You won’t find an actual statute titled shoplifting or stealing. The statute is formally called Theft. Violation of the statute when the alleged amount of the taking has a value of less than $1000 can result in a jail sentence of up to six months. That’s where a good attorney comes in. We can usually keep our clients out of jail.

Shoplifting versus stealing – it’s all Theft.

How Shoplifting is Defined in the Law

Shoplifting involves a person taking goods from an establishment without paying for them. This can involve leaving any kind of store with items without ringing them up at the register. Shoplifting happens when the store is open during normal hours. It does not involve breaking into the store when it’s closed. It simply involves the person taking one item or more without paying for them. This can also involve taking an item while hiding it in a jacket or carry bag. It can also occur when altering a price tag and paying less than the retail price for an item.

PRO TIP: Read our article and learn how much stolen property is a felony in Louisiana. Or contact Carl Barkemeyer, Criminal Defense Attorney for help with your case!

walmart self checkout
Shoplifting at Walmart Self-Checkout.

Most Establishments Where Shoplifting Occurs Is Retail

Most of the establishments that shoplifting can occur in are retail stores. But this also applies to restaurants, movie theaters, hotels and motels, and gyms.

Some States Don’t Distinguish Between The Two

There are several states in the US that don’t distinguish between shoplifting and stealing. But other states consider shoplifting a less serious crime. In these incidents, the victims tend to be the establishment, and not an individual person. This will lead to lower fines and less jail time when the perpetrator is caught. Even in states that don’t have differences between shoplifting and stealing, you should call a theft lawyer. They can negotiate lower fees and less jail time for any perpetrator by highlighting these differences.

The Punishment Is Determined Through Value

The punishment will be determined through the worth of the items taken. Several states describe shoplifting as involving the taking of items worth around $500 or less. The prosecutor’s intended punishment can also depend on a prior criminal record. More shoplifting offenses could mean a bigger fine, or longer jail time. The prosecutor also has no need to prove whether the perpetrator intended to take the items or not. But the fine for shoplifting tends to be lower compared to outright stealing.

How Stealing Is Defined In The Law

Stealing, or theft, is a more serious crime than shoplifting. This is a more personal crime. It involves taking something that belongs to another with the intent to deprive them of it. This can also involve breaking an entering of the place or establishment to take the item.

Stealing Involves Incidents But Large & Small

Stealing can involve incidents like taking another person’s car without their permission. It can also involve something smaller, like the person’s wallet. Stealing is also a more serious crime because it can involve violence, or the threat of it. This gets more serious if the threat involves the weapon, or a firearm. It’s further serious when a weapon or firearm is used on the victim.

There Are Several Degrees Of Stealing

There are also several degrees of stealing, depending on the state. There is petit stealing, when the items taken are valued at around $100. Third-degree stealing involves taking items worth $300 to $20,000. Second-degree stealing involves taking items or equipment between $20,000 to less than $100,000. The first degree involves stealing more than $100,000. The punishment will be more serious depending on how much a person has stolen. They can also be charged with all degrees if enough has been stolen.

theft charges
Stealing versus shoplifting

Stealing Results In Major Fines

Stealing can lead to serious fines, and jail time depending on the item stolen and amount. It can also lead to serious fines and jail time if that small amount was stolen through a threat with a weapon. A person will receive more charges if that weapon was used. The perpetrator could be on the hook for restitution for the victim after being charged and convicted. 

This will all involve proving whether the perpetrator had intent to steal the items in the first place. Someone cannot be convicted of the crime if they truly didn’t mean to take the item. This differs compared to shoplifting, where the prosecutor has no need to prove intent. When a person and the prosecution prove intent from the perpetrator, this will lead to conviction. The charges will be more serious for this act compared to shoplifting. This is also much easier to prove when violence was committed or threatened during the stealing.

Conclusion: Differences Between Shoplifting and Stealing Uncovered

Shoplifting is not considered as serious a crime as stealing, but both are still crimes. Shoplifting involves taking items from an establishment. Stealing involves taking items from an individual person. Stealing can often involve violent threats, if not outright violence being committed. This is why stealing is more serious. But stealing is also tougher to prove in the court of law compared to shoplifting. Intent needs to be established in stealing, but not shoplifting. This becomes much tougher for the prosecution when no violence was involved in stealing. It’s also tougher when the perpetrator didn’t break into an establishment. This is the difference between shoplifting and stealing.


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DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is not formal legal advice nor does it create an attorney-client relationship.

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