Shoplifting

While the criminal offense of shoplifting is formally on the books, most shoplifting/retail theft offenses are charged as Theft 2. ” Theft 2″ means theft as a second degree misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for no more than 180 days.

Elements of the Offense

There are three elements to the crime of shoplifting in Washington, D.C.  The first element is that the item in question needs to be the “personal property of another.”   The prosecution does not need to prove that the property actually belonged to the store.  It just needs to prove that the property does not belong to the defendant.

The second element is that the defendant had the intent either:  (1) to “appropriate” without complete payment property that is offered for sale or (2) to defraud the owner of the value of property.  “Appropriate” is defined in the statute as “taking or making use of without authority or right.”

The third and final element is that the person knowingly:  (1) conceals or takes possession of the property, (2) removes or alters the price tag or some other identifying mark, or (3) transfers the property from one display container to another.   Use of the word “knowingly” to modify all three sub-parts of the element assures that the action in question (the concealing, the taking possession, etc.) cannot be accidental or inadvertent.

According to the language in the statute, a person could conceivably be convicted of shoplifting for doing nothing more than walking into a store and picking up a piece of merchandise from the shelf.  However, in order to meet its burden of proof in this scenario, the prosecution would also need to prove three things.  First, it would need to prove that the property did not already belong to the defendant.  Second, it would need to prove that the act of picking up the merchandise was not done accidentally or inadvertently.  Finally, in what would be the prosecution’s biggest challenge, it would need to prove that, at the time of the picking up, the defendant intended either to steal it or to defraud the owner of its true value.

Penalty

The maximum penalty for a shoplifting conviction is a $300 fine and 90-days imprisonment.  D.C. Criminal Code 22-3213.