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Can You Be Arrested for Accidental Shoplifting?

CCTV Footage

You’re at your favorite big box store with the kids. It’s a hectic Saturday morning, and the kids are grabbing things off the shelves. You put them back, but don’t realize you missed one.

You get through checkout and head for the door when the anti-theft alarms go off. Loss prevention discovered an unpaid for item, and next thing you know, you’re in the back talking to the manager. Under these circumstances, could you be arrested for accidental shoplifting?


A theft or shoplifting accusation requires proof of intent. It’s not enough to simply take an item out of the store. The law defines theft as the intent to take someone’s property without consent and keep it permanently.

In our example above, there’s no intent to steal the item. It’s a mistake. However, store managers may not see things the same way. Depending on the circumstances, they may request that law enforcement file a police report.

In most cases, store owners will determine intent by reviewing security footage. If, as above, a child picked up and concealed the item, they likely wouldn’t pursue charges. However, if someone took the item off the shelf while suspiciously looking around or if they concealed it on their person, those would both be examples of establishing intent.


If law enforcement gets involved, it’s best to remain silent. Pleading with the store owners or the police can only give them more evidence to use against you, even if the shoplifting was purely incidental.

Instead, keep calm and only give the police your name when they ask. If they move forward with an arrest, politely refuse to answer questions. Finally, request to speak to an attorney. A skilled criminal defense attorney can help establish a lack of intent in a case of accidental shoplifting.

If you’re facing shoplifting charges, you should consider legal representation. If you’d like an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney from Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella to evaluate your case, please send us an email or call (414) 882-8382.