It was 7:00 PM on a warm evening in September.  There was nothing interesting on cable or the net.  Boring…

Janet sent Rick a text…he called back. By 7:30 P.M. they were at the mall, just looking around. By 8:30 P.M., they were  under arrest and would eventually be charged with felony retail theft and felony murder.

While in a jewelry store, Janet had removed the price tag from a pair of $329.00 earrings and dropped them into her purse. The store’s loss prevention officer saw her remove the tag and conceal the earrings. The officer followed Janet as she passed the store’s cashier without purchasing any items.

The security officer stopped Janet outside of the store, questioned her, and formally detained her for shoplifting.  Rick, who had been waiting for Janet outside the store, began arguing with the officer, pushed him, and caused the officer to fall and strike his head on the concrete floor of the mall. 

The security officer died immediately as a result of his injuries. Rick was charged with the murder of the security officer, Janet was charged with felony retail theft…AND with felony murder, even though she never touched the security officer.

Many states have felony-murder statutes, or follow what is known as the “felony murder rule”. That rule states that where a death is caused during the commission of–or an attempt to commit–a felony, each person charged with the commission of the underlying felony can also be charged with felony murder.

*******

Aaron was shopping at a large retail store.  He took a comb and a tube of hair gel from a store shelf and concealed the items in his jacket pocket. Their total value was approximately $11.75. He walked past the store’s cashier without paying for the items and walked out of the store. 

The store’s manager ran after Aaron, identified himself as the store manager and shouted for Aaron to stop. The manager chased Aaron, caught him, placed his arm tightly around Aaron’s throat, and both Aaron and the store manager dropped to the ground.

By the time the police and EMS had arrived, Aaron was dead. The store manager was not charged with Aaron’s death.

*******

The names, locations, and identities used in the cases above have been changed, but similar occurrences with fatal outcomes  happen with increasing frequency each year in the United States.

The number of deaths which occur each year in the United States which are the result of shoplifting is difficult to determine.  The methods of reporting these cases differ among state and local jurisdictions, as do the criteria for such reporting. However, some data appear to indicate that the number of these incidents may have  increased during the past 10 years (See http://www.lptoday.com/deaths.htm). 

Efforts are being made to verify, categorize, and  use these and other data to prevent circumstances which result in the loss of life of suspected shoplifters, law enforcement officers, and  loss prevention and other store employees. 

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.

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© 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.

“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.

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© 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.