“Let’s share what’s yours”, my friend Joe said to another high school student at lunch one day. Then he  quickly reached over the cafeteria  table and grabbed a small plastic bag from Bob’s lunch tray, ripped it open, and stuffed a large handful of Jay’s Potato Chips into his mouth.

Joe grinned as he sat there with his mouth full, cheeks puffed, and with a few bits of potato chip stuck to his lower lip.

Just as fast, Bob stood up and leaned across the table, and quickly smashed his right fist into Joe’s face. This time, lots of chips (and a chipped tooth) flew out of Joe’s mouth as he slid to the floor and landed on his back, staring  wide-eyed at the ceiling.

“Next time, ask “,  Bob said. Then he sat down and finished his lunch.

Years later, I was able to perform a brief legal analysis of retail theft using the above incident–with some revisions– for our retail theft  intervention program. Bob would have called  the program “Mike’s Theft School” and criticized me for not using very basic and inexpensive “behavior modification” techniques. I would then have to explain to Bob that his techniques, as he applied them to Joe back  in high school, were still considered illegal.

An analysis of retail theft:

“Bob’s” (the retail mercantile establishment) was the owner of the chips; Joe took possession of the chips with the intent to permanently deprive “Bob’s” of the use, benefit, and value of the chips; the chips were carried away by Joe; and his intent to permanently deprive Bob of their use, benefit, and value was demonstrated by his eating the chips without first purchasing them.

Depending upon the applicable state statutes, there may be additional requirements or elements of a state law which must be satisfied in order to prove retail theft, such as “causes to  be carried away” (think accomplice, or someone who facilitates the theft). Or if Joe passed the last point of sale (cashier) and purposely hid the bag of chips and did not pay for them, some state laws would make it easier to prosecute Joe.  Or even if he had inadvertently placed the chips on the bottom rung of the shopping cart and did not pay for them, once he passes the last point of sale he  may have a problem.

When the required  elements of the statute  are satisfied, there is a basis for arrest and a charge of theft. Even if Joe could have given the chips back to the store (with no “damage” to either the chips or the bag), once all three elements of the offense are satisfied, the act is considered to have been completed.  Joe’s plea to store security that “I’ll just pay for it now” would not fix the problem. There are no legal “Mulligans'” or “do-overs” allowed.

“Let’s share what’s yours” can lead to interesting, abstract philosophical discussions in a political science class. But if an individual elects to act out that belief on the premises of a retail mercantile establishment, it can  often lead to very real, expensive, and sometimes lethal consequences. More about that next week.

The Tier- 1 Program provides education, information, assessment, and referral services for first-time arrested retail theft offenders. Its  multi-disciplinary staff  has also provided consultive and research services for more than 27 years to retail merchants, law enforcement, and members of the judiciary who want to establish self-supporting alternative sentencing and intervention services for individuals charged with retail theft.


© Michael J. Pisani,2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael J. Pisani and Tier1Program with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.