Theft is probably one of the first crimes most people are taught when they’re a kid,”Don’t take what is not yours,” and its one of our most basic principals in the justice system. However, even though theft is so simple you can teach it to a toddler in the eyes of the law it can become very complicated. In the Utah Code the legislature has set out two different theft sections, one for theft in general one retail theft, with a total of over 15 subsections. There are many different ways a person can be charged for stealing but the most common is often referred to as retail theft, or shoplifting.
Shoplifting and Retail Theft
These two terms are interchangeable and both terms can often be heard in the courts of Utah. The official term in the code however is Retail Theft, and there are a number of different ways a person can be proven guilty of this offense. The most common facts for most retail theft cases is a person takes an item out of a store without paying for it. However, one of the main elements prosecutors have to prove in a retail theft case is the “intent to deprive.”
Intent to Deprive
Basically what the phrase “intent to deprive “ is trying to say is, “Were you trying to steal the item?” Obviously, no one can get in the mind of another individual so actual intent is virtually impossible to prove. Due to that impossibility the justice system has basically come up with a way to infer someones intent and that is by their actions. Unfortunately, actions are not a perfect indicator for thoughts and so there are plenty of cases where the defendant gets prosecuted and even convicted when they didn’t in fact have the necessary intent to deprive.
For example, lets say an individual went to a grocery store and after picking up some items proceeded to the self-check station. While they were checking out they intentionally decided to not check one of the items and just place it in one of the bags without paying for it but they made it look like they were trying to check it. Maybe they covered the bar code or something like that. Now lets imagine a second person goes to the same grocery store picks up the same items and goes to the same checkout stand, however they aren’t trying to steal anything they just accidentally don’t check one of the items and they put it in their bag and think they are paying for it. A completely honest mistake. The difficulty is that both of these scenarios will look the same to a third party observer, maybe exactly the same. Further complicating the situation, if confronted both individuals will probably claim it was a mistake, that the unchecked item ended up in their bag.
Due to the difficulty in deciphering honest mistakes from criminal intent most prosecutors simply don’t believe any defendants and just assume everyone had the intent to deprive. So even if you think your case is irrelevant or the item you were alleged to have stole is insignificant its still important that you treat your case seriously. Retail theft is charged based on the amount of the items stolen as follows:
2nd Degree Felony: greater than $5,000
3rd Degree Felony: between $1,500 and $5,000
Class A Misdemeanor: between $500 and $1,500
Class B Misdemeanor: $500 or less
Depending on your the level of your charged offense, your criminal history and the facts of your case you could be facing jail time on your case as well as a serious fine so make sure you’re not going to court alone.