What to do if you’re caught shoplifting

Are you concerned about being caught shoplifting in Brisbane? It can be an intense experience, and you would likely experience a great deal of fear, shame, and humiliation. This can mean making mistakes that could cost you dearly when it comes to your future.

Of course, the best course of action if you have a problem with compulsive behavior, or desperate circumstances lead you to steal, is to seek professional help, but lapses can happen. To avoid serious consequences, it best to make sure you are prepared in advance, and to know a criminal lawyer in Brisbane who can help.

Shoplifting offences

In Queensland, Shoplifting offences include:

  • Outright theft, i.e. the taking of goods without paying for them
  • Altering or removing price tags
  • Eating or drinking without paying for it
  • Leaving a restaurant or hotel without paying for used services
  • Paying with a bad cheque or an unauthorised credit card

There are two shoplifting offences. If the value of goods is under $150, the offence is subject to a fine equal to 6 penalty units under the Regulatory Offences Act 1985. If the value of the goods exceeds $150, you could be charged with a more severe offence, such as stealing or fraud.  Repeated shoplifting offences may also result in more severe sentencing in addition to fines. However, if it is a first offence, the court may allow you a good-behaviour bond.

What to do if you are caught shoplifting

If you are taken notice of while shoplifting and confronted by a department store employee or a security guard, it's important to know your rights and to not say anything or sign anything that could harm your defence.  

The shop cannot physically restrain you, force you to accompany them to another location, or lock you in a room. They also cannot lay hands on you for a search of your person or search your bag or belongings without your consent.

In some cases, it isn't unheard of for a friendly approach to be tried with shoplifters, and you may be assured by a security officer or store owner that you will be let go if you simply admit you took something, or if you sign a document admitting your guilt. However, there is nothing to prevent the police from being called or a formal complaint made, and your admission could seriously harm you if charges are then filed.

The best course of action is to say nothing if accosted and seek legal counsel as soon as possible. If it is a very low-value item, and you immediately hand it back but don't incriminate yourself verbally, the store management may decide it isn't worthwhile to pursue the matter further. It may be tempting to simply leave but fleeing the scene on foot or in a vehicle may make matters worse.

Returning any items taken will work in your favour if you do end up being charged, as judges often see remorse and restitution for the theft as grounds for leniency. Showing remorse should be done without a verbal admission of guilt.

If the value of what you have taken possession of or tried to alter tags on is more than $150, or you have been caught shoplifting before, your case may become even more complicated and you should decline to make any statement until you speak with a lawyer.

If you are charged with shoplifting

In most cases, if you are caught obviously shoplifting, then the store will ring the local police. The police will attend, seek a statement from you, and (if available) they may look at any CCTV footage. Some retailers may have a company policy to always ring the police even if they only suspect items have been stolen by someone.

If the officer believes that the fact that you shoplifted can be proven, they typically won't arrest you on the spot unless it is an egregious or repeated offence. Instead, they will likely issue you a notice to appear. As the suspect in the shoplifting offence, you will be commanded to appear in the Magistrates court most local to the establishment where it is alleged that you committed the offence.

Before the date to appear arrives, it is wise to seek legal advice. Without preparation, you could end up with a substantial fine, jail time, or even prison time. You may also find your future is adversely affected by having such an offence on your record, particularly in regard to your future employment.

Knowing what to do if you are caught shoplifting can help you get through the experience and come out the other side with your life intact, and hopefully in a place to get some help. If you were shoplifting out of desperation, you can also seek help from community resources.

Have you been caught shoplifting? Reach out to the team at Russo Lawyers for a free initial phone consultation for assistance with your case.

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