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Can I be charged with shoplifting if I don't take the item out of the store?

The short answer is yes, you can be charged with shoplifting in Utah, even if you don't take anything out of the store.  If you are facing criminal shoplifting or retail theft charges in Utah, you should consult with an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney.

Utah criminal law gives prosecutors the option of trying to prove either that a person took possession of merchandise, concealed merchandise, or carried merchandise away.  But in addition to exercising some kind of control over the merchandise, the prosecutor also has to prove the the person did so "with the intention of depriving the merchant permanently of the possession, use, or benefit of such merchandise without paying the retail value of such merchandise."  That element of mental intent can make a critical difference in determining whether an act was truly a retail theft.

For example, a person does not commit retail theft under Utah law if he mistakenly leaves an item on the bottom of a grocery cart, forgets to pay for the item, and accidentally takes that item out of the store with the rest of his purchase.  In this situation, the person is not guilty of shoplifting, because he did not have the intent to take the item without paying for it.  It was an innocent mistake.

On the other hand, consider the example of a person who fills a shopping cart, then abandons the cart near the front of the store, exits the store, and moves through the parking lot toward his car.  A person could be charged with shoplifting in this circumstance, even though no items were taken from the store. If a jury were convinced that the person had intended to take the items without paying, the jury could convict the person of retail theft under Utah law.

The critical difference between the two situations is the person's intent.  It is not possible to provide direct proof of what a person was thinking.  So prosecutors often rely on evidence of a person's other actions to try to prove their intent.  In both of the above situations, it is possible to provide innocent explanations for the person's actions.  But whether a jury believes those explanations may depend on what other evidence is presented.

Consider the person who left a full shopping cart near the front of the store and exited into the parking lot.  Did the person check his pockets, realize that he had forgotten his wallet, and go out to his car to get money to pay for the purchase?  Or did the person abandon the cart and run out of the store when he saw store security personnel approaching him?  One set of facts seems to indicate an innocent intent, whereas the other could support a guilty verdict at trial.  

Of course, a jury would still have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was guilty. And there are still potential defenses even in a situation where a person left the store when approached by security personnel.  If you have been charged with retail theft in Utah, you should consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine your best course of action.

Utah shoplifting charges can be filed as misdemeanors or as felonies.  The level of the offense usually depends on the value of the merchandise involved.  But retail theft is also an enhanceable offense, which means that taking even just an item worth a few cents can be charged as a felony if you have prior theft-related convictions.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal defense lawyer Stephen Howard has a proven track record of achieving real results for his clients.  If you are facing criminal prosecution in Utah, contact us to schedule an initial consultation.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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