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What is shoplifting?

Most of us have a pretty clear understanding of the basics. It’s when someone takes something from a store without paying for it, right?

Except that in North Carolina, it’s not quite that simple. There is no charge in our state for shoplifting.

So, what happens when someone “shoplifts” here? Our state criminalizes shoplifting under its theft and larceny laws. The following are the statutes used in NC to govern the various offenses related to shoplifting:

  • North Carolina General Statutes 14-72.1 describes concealment of merchandise
  • North Carolina General Statutes 14-72(a) describes larceny of property
  • North Carolina General Statutes 14-86.6 describes organized retail theft

In this post, we’re going to define each of those charges, including what you have to do to be convicted of each of them and what consequences are associated with them.

Per the above statues, shoplifting in North Carolina may, therefore, be treated as either larceny or concealment of merchandise. However, there are major differences between these two charges, so your best defense will likely be based on how well you understand those differences.

Concealment of Goods in North Carolina

A concealment of goods charge has three essential components:

(1) The accused willfully hides or conceals goods from a store

(2) having not purchased those goods

(3) while still within the store premises.

Translation: a person may be charged with concealment of merchandise if he/she is apprehended while still inside the store with hidden items found on or around their person.

Under state law, North Carolina tries concealment charges as a misdemeanor. The penalties are as follows:

  • First conviction: a class 3 misdemeanor punishable by community service
  • Second conviction: a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by community service or probation or both
  • Third and subsequent convictions: a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by incarceration and/or any other sentence such as the judge will see fit.

Larceny in North Carolina

A larceny charge has seven crucial aspects:

(1) The accused takes

(2) Personal property

(3) That was in another person’s possession

(4) And carries it away

(5) Without permission or consent

(6) With the intention or goal of depriving the owner of it

(7) With full knowledge that he/she isn’t entitled to that property.

In other words, you can be charged with larceny for shoplifting if you are apprehended and unpurchased items are found on or around your person after you have already left the store.

This may happen if, for instance, you or your bags are searched outside the store and the items are found, with there being security footage of you taking those items. The general assumption is that leaving the store with the items in question cements the elements of taking personal property with the intention to deprive.

North Carolina’s justice system tries larceny as a class 1 misdemeanor if the items in question are valued at $1,000 or less. The penalty for this may be incarceration for up to 45 days.

However, larceny may be a Class H felony if:

  • The items in question are worth more than $1,000.
  • The offense involves such items as firearms, explosive devices, or records from state archives.
  • The offense involves breaking and entering.

The penalty for class H felony larceny may include incarceration for 4-8 months.

Proving Larceny and Concealment of Goods in North Carolina

A shoplifting charge in North Carolina is usually built on the specific elements of the case. Nevertheless, the prosecution typically tries to provide evidence that shows:

  • The accused approaching an item(s), choosing it, hiding it, and then carrying it away.
  • The accused leaving, or attempting to leave, the store with the unpurchased items.
  • The accused switching item containers or the price tags on the items in question.
  • The accused using items to block the theft detection services used by the store.

Proving Larceny and Concealment of Goods in North Carolina

Fighting shoplifting charges, then, tends to involve arguing against these elements. Alternatively, in some cases in can help to present an affirmative defense that admits the act of theft occurred, but that the defendant should be granted leniency due to the reason they committed the act.

Which type of defense is right for you will depend upon the specifics of your situation. One thing is for sure, though – your best chance at success is to fight back with the strongest possible defense based on the specific statute you are accused of violating.

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