Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Shoplifting Definition:

Willful concealment of unpurchased merchandise of any retail store.

Related Terms: Theft, Larceny

The 2011 Maryland Code defines shoplifting as follows, at §3-1301(g):

"Shoplift means any one or more of the following acts committed by a person without the consent of the merchant and with the purpose or intent of appropriating merchandise to that person's own use without payment, obtaining merchandise at less than its stated sales price, or otherwise depriving a merchant of all or any part of the value or use of merchandise: (1) Removing any merchandise from its immediate place of display or from any other place on the premises of the mercantile establishment; (2) Obtaining or attempting to obtain possession of any merchandise by charging that merchandise to another person without the authority of that person or by charging that merchandise to a fictitious person; (3) Concealing any merchandise; (4) Substituting, altering, removing, or disfiguring any label or price tag; (5) Transferring any merchandise from a container in which that merchandise is displayed or packaged to any other container; or (6) Disarming any alarm tag attached to any merchandise." 

The Alaska Statutes, circa 1964, at §11.20.275 and now (as of 2011) repealed and replaced with a generic offence of theft, defined shoplifting as follows:

"A person who, without authority, wilfully conceals upon or about his person the goods or merchandise of a retail business establishment, not theretofore purchased by the person, while still upon the premises of the retail business establishment, with intent to deprive the owner of the goods or merchandise, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, is punishable by a fine of not more than $500, or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or by both.

"Goods or merchandise found concealed upon or about the person and which have not theretofore been purchased by the person are prima facie evidence of a wilful concealment."

Shoplifting is a creature of statute and usually distinct from theft (or the common law offence of larceny), as Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court wrote in Mahle v State:

"[T]he element of wilful concealment of the goods or merchandise by the offender on or about his person, as described in the shoplifting statute, is not a necessary element of the crime of larceny...."

Shoplifting, as with most crimes, exposes the offender not just to sanction pursuant to the criminal law, but also to an action in damages from the injured party, in the case of shoplifting, the retail store owner.

In Private Security Manual, the authors note:

"The amateur shoplifter accounts for the majority of actual thefts... Most amateurs are female ... the vast majority of shoppers are female...."

"The juvenile shoplifter generally steals as part of group pressure and will take items they can use... They usually work in a group....

"The drug addict or alcoholic steals from a basic need to obtain money. They will steal any item for which they feel there is a chance for quick conversion to cash."

"The professional shoplifter is ... the most difficult to apprehend. They normally work in pairs, with one person distracting the clerk while the other steals the item(s)."


  • Mahle v. State, 392 P. 2d 19 (1964)
  • Smith, K. and Prouse, R., Private Security Manual (Toronto: Carswell, 1987), page 186.

Categories & Topics:

Always looking up definitions? Save time with our search provider (modern browsers only)

If you find an error or omission in Duhaime's Law Dictionary, or if you have suggestion for a legal term, we'd love to hear from you!