3 Shoplifting Defenses That Will NOT Hold Up in Court

Woman stealing makeup from store.

Shoplifting can be a rather serious offense, depending on how far a retailer is willing to go with pressing charges. Here are three common shoplifting defenses that will NOT hold up in court.


“It Was an Accident”


Shoplifting generally refers to the theft of merchandise from a retailer or place of business. It is a form of larceny, and can result in criminal charges ranging from an infraction to a misdemeanor to varying degrees of felony charges.


Whether you intended to steal from a retailer or not, claiming that it was an “accident” is a shoplifting defense that will not hold up in court. You may very well have absentmindedly walked out of a store not realizing you were still holding onto a sweater or wearing the scarf you’d tried on. In most cases, retailers will understand if you return the unpaid item with an embarrassed apology; however, some may not and may want to press charges.


Unfortunately, claiming that you shoplifted by accident isn’t a strong defense, whether it’s the truth or not. If you’ve been charged with shoplifting, you need to seek legal counsel as laws can vary considerably in the severity of shoplifting charges and you may wind up with a criminal conviction, a hefty fine, or even jail time.


“I’m Poor”


Why do people shoplift? The noblest shoplifter is perhaps Jean Valjean, the protagonist of Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel Les Misérables who steals bread to feed his sister’s starving children. However, just as Jean Valjean is imprisoned for shoplifting, the courts may not look favourably on someone who has shoplifted, even if they claim that they did so out of necessity.


Claiming that you shoplifted because you couldn’t afford the item is a rather flimsy defense, and most likely will not hold up in court. If you are being prosecuted for shoplifting, you’ll need strong legal counsel to help you strategize your defense. Even if you did steal out of necessity, if you are convicted you could face fines upwards of $5,000 and even have to pay additional court and legal fees.


“I Made a Mistake”


While courts may look favorably upon someone who shows remorse for their actions, legal systems aren’t known for being particularly forgiving. Plus, retailers take shoplifting very seriously, because it can cost them thousands and thousands of dollars in losses each year. The retailer may want to prosecute you to the full extent of the law, so even if you did legitimately make a mistake, chances are you will have to face the consequences of it.

Shoplifting is considered a crime of dishonesty and can seriously damage your reputation or career (cough cough: Winona Ryder) so it’s important to avoid a conviction at all costs.


Most shoplifting cases are resolved without a trial. However, it’s important that people charged with shoplifting seek the counsel of a criminal defense lawyer who will help to make sure no criminal convictions are laid. Having a criminal record for shoplifting – even if it’s a first offense – can be damaging to a person’s future and all-around embarrassing. Claiming that you “made a mistake” is not a good enough defense to hold up in court.


If you’ve been charged with a shoplifting offense, you need professional legal representation.