It’s the holiday season once again and the stores and shopping malls are jam-packed full of busy shoppers trying to get their holiday purchases completed. It’s also the time of year that more and more retailers accuse customers of shoplifting merchandise. When people take items without paying, it is a problem. However, there are a number of individuals who are accused of shoplifting by store clerks and retail security, who are actually innocent. There are also a number of cases around the holidays in which a customer accidentally forgets to pay for an item.
The customer might have not been paying attention to what they were doing; were too busy thinking about all the things they had to do to get ready for the holidays. Maybe they absentmindedly placed an item in their purse or pocket, with no ill intent. These things happen. If you have been accused of shoplifting, you should contact an experienced Massachusetts shoplifting defense attorney to help you defend yourself against the charges.
Shoplifting Defense Strategies
There are a number of defense strategies that a skilled criminal defense attorney, with years of experience handling shoplifting charges, can use for your defense. A few of the most common strategies are described below.
Was There Probable Cause?
A person cannot be held against their will, i.e., detained, and their personal effects may not be searched (purses, backpacks, jackets, pockets, etc.) unless the person detaining them has probable cause to suspect shoplifting occurred and the person being detained did the shoplifting. The retail security or store clerk must have probable cause to believe that you took an item of merchandise without paying, or have the intention of taking the item without paying.
Lack of Evidence
Shoplifting is a charge that is brought before the court in the form of a complaint. Before your case ever sees a judge and jury, a magistrate clerk will review the complaint, hear testimony from both parties involved (the accuser and the accused) and will decide whether there is enough evidence to support a finding of probable cause. If there is probable cause, then the case should be submitted to a judge for further review.
If there is no evidence that you committed the crime, it will be very difficult to prove probable cause. Many cases of shoplifting are dismissed at this stage because there is insufficient evidence of the crime. For example, if there is no video footage, and your accuser cannot definitively say that he or she personally witnessed you committing the crime, there is a higher likelihood that the case will be thrown out for lack of evidence. However, if a store clerk or security claims to have witnessed you taking the item, or concealing the item in your bag or in your clothes, it is usually enough to satisfy the probable cause requirement.
The Value of the Item Allegedly Stolen
An experienced criminal defense attorney might decide that it is important to refute the alleged value of the item that may have been stolen. This is usually a tactic that is employed in situations in which there is evidence that the crime was committed. Arguing the value of the item that was shoplifted can get the charges against you reduced. Shoplifting is a crime for which the severity of punishment is correlated to the value of the item taken.
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