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    Check your pockets before leaving the store

    Date: 12.07.11 | by Judge Tom.

    Have you ever been shopping and left a store with an item in your purse or pocket that you didn’t pay for? What about eating something from the produce or candy aisle? You may not have intended to steal it but just forgot about it until you got home. Judge Tom has done this* on a few occasions and it’s not necessarily a crime. Crimes require “intent” which is something that can be proven by either direct (eyewitness) or circumstantial (opportunity, motive, etc.) evidence.

    Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

    In October, 2011, Nicole and Marcin Leszczynski of Hawaii were grocery shopping with their 2 year-old daughter, Zofia. Nicole was seven months pregnant with her second child. While in the store, they picked up two wrapped sandwiches that cost five dollars for both. Nicole opened one and munched on it. She saved the wrapper with the price to show the cashier at the checkout stand. However, when she got to the cashier she forgot the wrapper and paid fifty dollars for the rest of her items. Upon leaving the store, they were stopped by security and taken to an office. Store managers wouldn’t let them pay for the sandwich telling them they were being charged with shoplifting.

    It took several hours for the police to arrive. They read the parents their rights and arrested them. They were handcuffed and driven separately to the police station where they were searched, had their mug shots taken and released after paying bail. A representative from the State Child Welfare Services appeared and took custody of Zofia. After 18 hours, the child was returned to her parents. This was her first overnight away from her parents. They were charged with fourth-degree theft and are due back in court on November 28, 2011. The store decided against pressing charges and informed the police of such. They are reviewing their policies in such incidents, particularly when children are involved.

    See the parents interviewed here:

    What’s the lesson here? Yes, laws must be enforced and there’s always two sides to every story. But what about common sense and flexibility in enforcement? If every act that crosses the line, regardless of intent, resulted in arrest and prosecution, our jails would be bulging more than they already are. The U.S. has the greatest number of incarcerated juveniles and adults. These type of cases don’t merit a loss of freedom much less involvement in the justice system. What do you think?

    *at Home Depot or Lowes – a small item like a screw or bolt discovered after paying for other items and leaving the store. Judge Tom returned to the store and paid for the items. There was no involvement with the police or store security.

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    3 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Askthejudge.info
      Thu, 08 Dec 2011 at 12:52

      New blog post: Check your pockets before leaving the store – Have you ever been shopping and left a store with an it… http://t.co/j6Bp5aS6

    • Tulsa Divorce Lawyers
      Sat, 24 Dec 2011 at 12:04

      I agree that laws must be enforced, but this course of action seems like overkill. Nicole had the money to pay and she was willing to pay – those facts show that she did not ‘need’ to steal the sandwich and show that the necessry intent was missing.

    • Lisa Maloney
      Mon, 26 Dec 2011 at 10:27

      I am very asahmed and scared. I have stolen from a local supermarket and was almost caught, but not arrested or approached because i had taken it out of my bag and put it back before I checked out..I know they saw this on camera, as the manager made a comment to me in an indirect way. But I have stolen from this same store (again) not proud. many many times before.. Is it likely they will go back and look at my prior visits in that store? what is the likely hood.. I am sitting at home waiting for the police to come and arrest me. I would like to make this right. I am going for therapy and will figure out how to fix this but in the meantime,Are they sitting there going through my past visits?
      Dear Lisa: It’s quite unlikely that the store is reviewing past surveillance tapes looking for previous incidents of your stealing. Most stores don’t have the time or resources to review such tapes unless perhaps they are going to court over a case involving a new incident of a shoplifting offense. You obviously know your actions in the past were wrong and perhaps you could consider sending the store, even anonymously, money for any items previously stolen or returning the items if you still have them. We’re glad to hear that you’re in counseling and addressing this issue. Good luck.
      (This is information only – not legal advice.)

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