Wrongful arrests for shoplifting charges in SC are more common than you would think.
For example, did you know that you could be charged with shoplifting if your child tries on a pair of shoes but doesn’t take them off before walking through the store?
Loss prevention employees are increasingly aggressive and often detain people who have done nothing wrong, sometimes injuring them in the process. Law enforcement will often take a person to jail based solely on the store employee’s word that the person was stealing, without investigating or reviewing the store’s video.
In this article, I’ll discuss the basics of shoplifting charges in SC, including:
- The elements of shoplifting charges – what the State must prove to get a conviction,
- Potential defenses to shoplifting charges in SC,
- The penalties for the different levels of shoplifting, and
- Lawsuits based on wrongful arrests for shoplifting.
Shoplifting Charges in SC – Elements and Defenses
Most people think of shoplifting as when a person conceals an item in their pocket or a purse and then leaves the store without paying.
That is shoplifting, assuming the person had the intent to steal the merchandise, but there are many other ways that a person can be charged with shoplifting in SC.
SC law provides a number of unexpected ways that a person can be charged with shoplifting in SC, including, with the intent to take the merchandise without paying the full retail value:
- Taking possession of merchandise,
- Transferring merchandise from one person to another,
- Transferring merchandise from one area of the store to another,
- Carrying away merchandise,
- Altering labels or price tags,
- Transferring labels or price tags,
- Removing labels or price tags, or
- Transferring merchandise to a different container.
SC Code § 16-13-110 says that:
(A) A person is guilty of shoplifting if he:
(1) takes possession of, carries away, transfers from one person to another or from one area of a store or other retail mercantile establishment to another area, or causes to be carried away or transferred any merchandise displayed, held, stored, or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use, or benefit of the merchandise without paying the full retail value;
(2) alters, transfers, or removes any label, price tag marking, indicia of value, or any other markings which aid in determining value affixed to any merchandise displayed, held, stored, or offered for sale in a store or other retail mercantile establishment and attempts to purchase the merchandise personally or in consort with another at less than the full retail value with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of the merchandise;
(3) transfers any merchandise displayed, held, stored, or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment from the container in which it is displayed to any other container with intent to deprive the merchant of the full retail value.
Statutory Inferences – Concealment
The State must prove that you had the intent to take the merchandise without paying for it, but how do they prove that?
SC Code § 16-13-120 makes it a bit easier on the prosecution by creating an inference that you intended to take merchandise without paying for it if you willfully concealed the merchandise:
It is permissible to infer that any person wilfully concealing unpurchased goods or merchandise of any store or other mercantile establishment either on the premises or outside the premises of the store has concealed the article with the intention of converting it to his own use without paying the purchase price thereof within the meaning of Section 16-13-110. It is also permissible to infer that the finding of the unpurchased goods or merchandise concealed upon the person or among the belongings of the person is evidence of wilful concealment. If the person conceals or causes to be concealed the unpurchased goods or merchandise upon the person or among the belongings of another, it is also permissible to infer that the person so concealing such goods wilfully concealed them with the intention of converting them to his own use without paying the purchase price thereof within the meaning of Section 16-13-110.
This doesn’t mean that a person who has concealed merchandise is automatically guilty, however. An inference means that, in the absence of contrary evidence, the jury can assume you were going to steal an item.
You are still free to testify or present evidence to show that you did not intend to steal the merchandise or that you did not willfully conceal an item. For example, we have seen people accused of shoplifting who:
- Were merely present when another person was shoplifting,
- Were using their own shopping bags in the store,
- Absent-mindedly dropped an item into a pocketbook in their shopping cart but intended to pay for it,
- Forgot to pay for an item because they were distracted by children or other people,
- Were suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s and became confused in the checkout line,
- Walked beyond the cashiers to get a shopping cart,
- Unknowingly picked up an item with a tag that had been switched by another person, or
- Refused to show a “door checker” their receipt for an item they had purchased.
Loss prevention employees can be and often are overzealous, and law enforcement will often take the store employee’s word for it instead of taking the time to investigate and review surveillance cameras.
Penalties for Shoplifting Charges in SC
The potential penalties for shoplifting charges in SC are based on the value of the merchandise involved:
|Value of Merchandise||Court||Penalty|
|$2000 or less||Magistrate or Municipal||Up to 30 days, misdemeanor|
|$2000 to $10,000||General Sessions||Up to five years, felony|
|$10,000 or more||General Sessions||Up to 10 years, felony|
Property Crime Enhancements in SC
Under SC Code § 16-1-57, a person can be charged with a ten-year felony if they have two or more prior convictions for any property offense contingent on the value of the property involved:
A person convicted of an offense for which the term of imprisonment is contingent upon the value of the property involved must, upon conviction for a third or subsequent offense, be punished as prescribed for a Class E felony.
This includes shoplifting charges in SC, as well as other property offenses like larceny, destruction of property, or possession of stolen goods.
Lawsuits for Wrongful Arrest
If you were wrongfully arrested for shoplifting, you may have a lawsuit against 1) the store that arrested you, 2) the individuals who caused the arrest, or 3) the police officer or department who made the arrest.
I don’t mean situations where you were shoplifting, but we got your case dismissed because the store failed to prosecute or because they failed to provide the requested discovery – you may have a lawsuit if 1) there was no probable cause for the arrest and 2) qualified immunity does not apply (in the case of law enforcement officers or other government officials).
If you were wrongfully arrested for shoplifting in SC, we will collect and preserve the evidence that you may need to file your civil suit once the criminal case has been dismissed.
Questions About Shoplifting Charges in SC?
Myrtle Beach criminal defense lawyer Daniel Selwa has extensive experience defending clients accused of crimes in the Surfside Beach, Conway, Horry County, and Georgetown County areas of SC, including shoplifting charges in the magistrate court, municipal court, or General Sessions Court.
We will get your shoplifting charges dismissed, find an acceptable resolution, or try your case to a jury. We will also preserve any evidence that you may need for a lawsuit if you were wrongfully arrested for shoplifting.
If you have been charged with shoplifting in SC or believe you are under investigation, call now at (854) 854-6650 or send us a message through our website to talk with an attorney today.