Inventory loss due to theft is a major source of lost income for all retailers. Merchants are therefore increasingly likely to prosecute even relatively minor incidents of shoplifting in order to deter this practice. Unfortunately, many habitual shoplifters find that it’s difficult to stop – even with the risk of running into trouble with the law.
How widespread is the shoplifting problem?
Check out these statistics compiled by the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention:
- One in eleven people, or 27 million Americans, are shoplifters.
- In the past five years, over 10 million people have been caught shoplifting in the US
- 75% of shoplifters are over 18, and 55% of habitual shoplifters say they began shoplifting in their teens
- On average, shoplifters are caught once every 48 times, and are turned over to police about 50% of the time they’re caught
- Over half of habitual shoplifters say that it’s hard to stop shoplifting even if they’ve been caught and faced legal consequences.
With so many shoplifters, you can’t help but wonder what compels people to shoplift. Below we explore some of the common reasons people shoplift, and how these reasons could be used as a defense strategy if you’re caught shoplifting and charged with a crime.
Top 10 Reasons People Shoplift
People shoplift for a number of reasons. Here are some of the most common:
- Shoplifting is a low-risk crime. People are only caught shoplifting about one in every 50 times – and habitual shoplifters may be skilled enough to be caught even less. Moreover, many times when shoplifters are caught, they’re able to offer up a believable excuse to store security – for example, forgetfulness and the intention to pay.
- Drug addiction. The need for drug money causes many drug addicts to turn to theft crimes to obtain money. In fact, shoplifting is thought to fuel the drug trade, as it provides the necessary income many addicts need to buy drugs.
- Shoplifting is easy. Many stores have merchandise out in the open and on display, which makes stealing these products relatively easy, particularly if they are small items. Further, the introduction of self-checkout lanes has made shoplifting even easier.
- To make a living. Contrastingly, some people shoplift to make a living by selling or bartering stolen goods.
- For spending money and status. Particularly among juvenile shoplifters, many teens shoplift for spending money to buy clothes or other items that bring them social status among their peers.
- To own the stolen goods. Some shoplifters simply take enjoyable things because they see them and want them.
- Lack of tracking and security. In some shops, the stock control is very deficient, and many retailers simply do not track shoplifting. Additionally, extra security and prevention measures add to overhead costs.
- Depersonalization. Many shoplifters find that it’s easier to steal from a store than it is to steal from private individuals. A corporation is seen as an entity rather than a personality, and many shoplifters believe that shoplifting harms no one except an anonymous business that can simply take the loss as a tax write-off.
- Shoplifting gives people a rush. Shoplifting causes a dopamine rush in the brain similar to the high produced by illicit drugs. Getting away with stealing something produces a thrill that for many habitual shoplifters, is more gratifying than owning the stolen goods.
- Shoplifting is a mental health disorder. Some people literally can’t stop themselves from stealing. This mental health condition is known as kleptomania, which according to the Mayo Clinic is “is the recurrent failure to resist urges to steal items that you generally don’t really need and that usually have little value.”
Can Kleptomania or Other Mental Health Conditions Help Me Beat My Shoplifting Charge?
Notice anything about those last two reasons? Both are about feelings or compulsions related to shoplifting. Something in the brain that causes people to steal.
If you have previously been diagnosed with a mental health condition, this diagnosis may be used to help defend against criminal charges. However, this depends on the mental health condition and the circumstances surrounding the offense.
Kleptomania is not a common mental health disorder – it only affects 0.6% of the US population, and fewer than 5% of shoplifters. There are also very specific diagnostic criteria for kleptomania.
However, other, more common mental health disorders may also be used as a part of your defense. A mental health condition speaks to your state of mind at the time of the offense, and to your intent. If you are compelled to steal due to an underlying psychiatric condition, it may be possible to get your charges reduced, dropped or dismissed – especially if you have a skilled Minnesota defense attorney on your side.
Although no criminal lawyer can guarantee any outcome, an experienced attorney may be able to argue that rather than facing serious shoplifting penalties, you (and therefore society as a whole) would benefit more from you getting the necessary professional help for your mental health conditions, which would make you less likely to shoplift in the future more than any punishment.
The bottom line is that if you’ve been charged with a shoplifting crime, there are many defense strategies available that may be able to help your case. A knowledgeable criminal lawyer can help to determine which strategies are most likely to help you beat your charges.
About the Author:
A former prosecutor and lifelong Minnesotan, Christian Peterson has handled hundreds of criminal cases from both sides of the aisle since he began practicing law in 2006, as well as a wide variety of family law matters. This background allows him to look at situations from all angles and anticipate which arguments the other side may use, increasing his clients’ chances of success. His work has been recognized by the American Society of Legal Advocates, the National Academy of Family Law Attorneys, and National Trial Lawyers, and he has a perfect 10/10 rating from Avvo.