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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

North Carolina Shoplifting: An Unlikely and Unexpected Defendant

I was in court yesterday handling a traffic ticket for a client who had failed to appear on her court date and saw a shoplifting case with an unlikely and unexpected defendant. As attorneys wait for their cases to be called, one often overhears the current case being addressed in open court. I was in a courtroom where the majority of cases were shoplifting related. In North Carolina, this crime can be called shoplifting, unlawful concealment, possession of stolen merchandise, or embezzlement. For information about the law surrounding this and the differences, click here.

The particular case that caught my attention  was a 70+ year old woman who had stolen food from three different grocery stores within a one month time period. This woman had only been in trouble once before her entire life- she bounced a check. The law calls that insufficient funds, uttering forged paper, or uttering worthless checks. The state must show that you wrote a check and you knew you didn't have enough money to cover it. Technology has made this crime more difficult - I believe larger stores have instant access to your available funds when you write a check. Anyway, I found this case sad for a variety of reasons. The judge sentenced her to several requirements including supervised probation (meaning she will have to report to a probation officer) and 60 days of suspended jail time. I should mention that when a person admits guilt or pleas guilty to an offense in North Carolina, the state will provide the judge with facts surrounding the crime, any prior criminal history, and other information the state deems relevant. Many times the police officer or witnesses to the crime will be present to provide such  facts.

What struck me was that no one addressed the core issue surrounding why a 70 year old woman, who has basically led a crime free life, was suddenly stealing food. Her daughter was in court, crying, shocked to see her mother accused of a crime and subsequently admitting to the crime. The case left me with many unanswered questions and thoughts.

For some interesting statistics surrounding shoplifting, the impact it has on society, and general information, go to the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention or click here. Here are some statistics from the website: Several studies show that depression exists in 1/3 of shoplifters. Men and women shoplift in equal numbers. Shoplifters don't plan their crimes: 73 percent of adults and 73 percent of juveniles don't plan to steal in advance. According to the website most shoplifters are "non-professionals" who steal, not out of criminal intent, financial need or greed but as a response to social and personal pressures in life. One of the more alarming statistics: studies show that 1 in 11 Americans shoplift. As a result, it is one of the most common crimes in our country causing up to 35 million dollars in losses per day. This is an issue that needs to be properly addressed- however is sending a 70 year old women to jail the best path to follow?

Fortunately, in North Carolina there are programs that address this issue. In Mecklenburg County, specific classes are sometimes offered to those who have been accused of shoplifting. Upon successful completion of the class, the case can be dismissed. However, every case is different and it is within the discretion of the District Attorney to decide whether they offer this to the accused. Therefore, it is important to discuss any shoplifting, theft, or unlawful concealment case with an attorney, A shoplifting conviction will follow you through your entire life and make it extremely difficult to get a job, get into school or even rent an apartment.

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posted by Carilyn Ibsen at

1 Comments:

Anonymous Kit said...

Carilyn I find your postings knowledgeable and informative.
Thank you for the consistency.

December 3, 2009 at 9:48 AM  

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