The Strange History of Shoplifting
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The Strange History of Shoplifting

Ever since there have been shops, there has been shoplifting.

Shoplifting is the taking or stealing of something from a store, or otherwise attempting to deprive a retail store of the full value of its merchandise.

The Shoplifting Couple

Back in 1910, a man and his wife were both charged with shoplifting because they allegedly stole a pair of boots from a shop. The man took the boots from a shelf and passed them to his wife, who was subsequently caught as she attempted to leave the shop. Back then, it was presumed that a wife was under the control of her husband and therefore was not an independent agent. As such, she could not be an accessory after the fact. Accordingly, the judge directed the jury to find the woman not guilty. While this rule was applied to shoplifting and other minor offenses, it was not applied to more serious crimes like murder. In addition, a wife could not, and still cannot, be made to testify against her husband. Today, this is known as a spousal privilege, but back then, the judge merely described it as ‘against social policy to make the wife inform against her husband.’

The 14-Year-Old Shoplifter

Around the same time, a 14-year-old girl was brought into court for repeatedly shoplifting. She was accused of shoplifting groceries, jewelry, a doll, gloves, two pocketbooks, ribbons and a handkerchief. When questioned by the police, she said that she wanted the doll for her sister and the ribbons because she didn’t have any of her own. She told the court that when she sees things, something makes her take them. She said that she tried to resist the temptation, but even if she left the shop, something took her back. She said she knew her mother would hit her if she shoplifted, but she did it anyway. The culture of those days dictated that as the eldest girl child, she should stay at home and care for her two younger siblings, while her widowed mother worked. The mother told the court that her daughter had been a terrible problem since she was about seven-years-old, and had been committed to an institution because of her shoplifting. She reportedly learned bad things from other girls. Her late father was a ‘hard drinker’ and a first-class thief, before drinking himself to death when his daughter was eleven- years-old. Her school record was not good, her reading and writing was poor, probably because she was often forced to stay at home in order to look after her siblings. The report didn’t say what happened to her eventually. However, one likes to think we live in more enlightened times.

Defending a Shoplifting Charge

A lot has changed over the years, but shoplifting has remained a very common crime, costing stores millions and millions of dollars every year in loss prevention. Also, like the 14-year-old girl, there are many reasons for it. Nonetheless, whatever the reason, whether it is a compulsion like the girl, a question of survival, even a dare, a shoplifter is subject to the criminal justice system and can be fined, sent to jail, or even deported.

No matter what, if you are caught shoplifting, immediately consult a criminal defense lawyer to learn the consequences, protect your rights and develop a winning defense strategy.

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