Is it Shoplifting if I Just Forgot To Pay?

Have you been accused of shoplifting? It can happen to anyone and there are a variety of explanations, from stress or forgetfulness to more complicated psychological causes.

What is shoplifting? What if you simply forgot to pay? And what are your options if you are arrested and charged?

Let's find out.

What is Shoplifting?

The layman’s definition of shoplifting refers to stealing an item from a retail store, during business hours. Common examples of shoplifting might include stealing a candy bar from the corner store or a pair of jeans from a department store. But what about a meal from a restaurant? Or a car?

Most people wouldn’t consider those examples to be shoplifting. Why not? The victims aren't retail stores, or the crimes occurred outside of business hours. These would commonly be considered to be examples of theft or burglary.

Why do I make the distinction and why does it matter?

Because in Oregon, there is no separate offense for shoplifting.

Every one of the the crimes I described above are examples of theft.

Theft in Oregon

The crime of theft in Oregon is defined in this way:

A person commits theft when, with intent to deprive another of property or to appropriate property to the person or to a third person, the person:

(1) Takes, appropriates, obtains or withholds such property from an owner thereof; (ORS 164.015)

So, a legitimate defense against a charge of Theft is lack of intent, but this is a question for the jury to decide. If there is videotape or testimonial evidence of concealing merchandise, it’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to convince a jury “it was just a mistake.”

The severity of the charge depends on the value of the item stolen, as well as a few other factors.

  • Theft in the third degree - Class C misdemeanor, referring to stolen property under $100 in value. (ORS 164.043)

  • Theft in the second degree - Class A misdemeanor, referring to stolen property with a value from $100 to $1,000 (ORS 164.045)

  • Theft in the first degree - Class C felony. It refers to stolen property worth more than $1,000, and also crimes involving stolen firearms and pets (ORS 164.055)

Civil Penalties for Shoplifting

In addition to criminal penalties, shoplifters may also be held civilly liable for actual damages and penalties which can be enforced without an accompanying criminal theft charge, conviction, or trial.

Additionally, a civil judgement does not preclude criminal charges from being pressed under a double jeopardy defense.

Photo: 401(K)2012 on Flickr

Criminal Intent

Many people claim the event was “just an accident” and virtually everyone offers to pay after they have been stopped in the parking lot. However, the truth is, 99% of those accused of theft knew exactly what they were doing, and took steps to conceal their crime before they were caught.

That doesn’t mean they are evil people and it doesn’t mean they didn’t have good cause, or a reason for doing what they did. That simply means it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to convince a jury that they “just forgot to pay.”

People steal for many reasons, ranging from poverty to criminality. Recent research on dopamine has even shown that people can become addicted to activities such as stealing, sex, eating, and gambling in the same way they can become addicted to alcohol and drugs.

For these people, stealing is not a rational, planned decision. Instead it is a method of coping with unwanted thoughts or feelings. Other psychological and physiological causes of theft can include:

  • Kleptomania

  • Bipolar disorders

  • Dissociative disorder

  • Anxiety & severe depression

  • Traumatic brain injuries

What To Do?

If shoplifting is more of a disease than a crime, the first and best thing a defendant can do is admit they have a problem and seek help.

The good news is that in many courts, particularly in Multnomah County, there are alternatives to the standard penalties and punishments. These include counseling, therapy, and community service. Alternative options like these not only restore a person’s sense of dignity, but provide an opportunity to actually resolve the root cause of the issue.

The bottom line is that your first priority should be finding an attorney who understands and who can help get you through this difficult and humiliating time.

If you’ve been accused of theft at any level, I urge you to get in touch with me. I can help, and the first consultation is always free.

Call me at (503) 227-3800 for a free consultation.