The Definition of Shoplifting and the Consequences of Being Caught

This article mostly applies to the state of Texas since I’ve used the Texas constitution and statutes as reference, but much of this information can apply to other states across the nation.

A general definition of shoplifting is a theft of goods from a retailer. Shoplifting is the act of unlawfully acquiring property with the intent of removing it from the premises and not paying for it.

Theft Defined

Penal Code, Title 7, Offenses Against Property, Chapter 31. Theft, Section 31.01 states “Deprive” means “to withhold property from the owner permanently or for so extended a period of time that a major portion of the value or enjoyment of the property is lost to the owner.” This also includes disposing of the property in a way that makes recovery unlikely or impossible. Here’s an example; stealing merchandise, running from the store before apprehension and then discarding of the evidence in a garbage bin.

Even if you aren’t caught with the evidence, you still committed theft. Under Code of Criminal Procedure, Title 1, Chapter 38, Evidence in Criminal Actions, section 38.34 “A photograph of property that a person is alleged to have unlawfully appropriated with the intent to deprive the owner of the property is admissible into evidence under rules of law governing the admissibility of photographs.  The photograph is as admissible in evidence as is the property itself.” This may include store security video.

Section 31.01 states that “Property” is defined as real property, personal property severed from land, money and/or documents that represent anything of value. Shoplifting most commonly consists of store merchandise placed for purchase by customers, but under the Texas definition of property, someone can be charged for shoplifting by stealing money, for example if an employee pockets customer change, or even important company documents.

Methods of Theft

Section 31.02 consolidates theft offenses as “shoplifting, acquisition of property by threat, swindling, swindling by worthless check, embezzlement, extortion, receiving or concealing embezzled property, and receiving or concealing stolen property.”

Shoplifting is commonly thought of as a someone concealing an item somewhere on their person (pockets or under clothing) but according the above statement, theft can also include using stolen credit cards (not explicitly specified) or worthless checks (fake, stolen, insufficient funds, non-existing bank account, etc.) to purchase property as well as threatening store employees if they don’t “give” away merchandise. Concealing property known to have been stolen, even if that person wasn’t the one to steal it, can also constitute theft. Switching price tags would fit into the “swindling” definition.

Penalties and Fines

Section 31.03 states the penalties as follows:

If the stolen property is worth less than $50, or less than $20 and was acquired using a knowingly worthless check or similar manner, the shoplifter will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. If, under these same circumstances, the shoplifter has been previously convicted of any grade of theft, the charge is upgraded to a Class C misdemeanor.

If the property is worth more than $50 but less than $500, or $20 or more and less than $500 and purchased using a worthless check or similar manner, they will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor.

If the property is worth more than $500 but less than $1,500, the shoplifter will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.

If the property is worth more than $1,500 but less than $20,000, or less than $1,500 but the person has a prior conviction of theft, they will be charged with a state jail felony. It’s also a felony if the property is a firearm, despite its worth.

There are further levels of felony, but I’ve chosen not to include them since they begin to reach beyond the typical definition of shoplifting.

Also note that under section 31.15, it is a Class A misdemeanor to possess, manufacture or distribute certain instruments that can be used to commit retail theft, even if you haven’t shoplifted.

Sentencing is commonly up to the judge, but the penal guidelines suggest no more than 180 days and/or a fine of no more than $2,000 for a class B misdemeanor. A class A misdemeanor can result in no more than 1 year in county jail and/or a fine of no more than $4,000.


Shoplifting affects everyone. It takes away valuable time from police officers and causes un-needed strain in the court system. Shoplifting adds to increased store-security costs, which results in increased taxes and ends up costing everyone in the community money.

Even after being caught, more than 50% of adults and more than 30% of teenagers find it difficult to quit stealing. Studies have shown that most shoplifters steal not because of poverty, but because of personal conflicts and psychological issues, such as depression or mental stress. It’s important that shoplifters seek professional help if needed.


Content provided by:

Alex Juel
Editorial Coordinator, Law Office of Scott C. Smith

8 Responses

  1. I don’t know about Texas but here in California if you enter into a store with no money and steal an item, especially if you bring in an empty purse or some other means of stealing on purpose you show intent to steal and they can upgrade it to burglary if they want to be really tough, if you are arrested a bunch of times for shoplifting it shows that you could possibly be a “career criminal” and purposely stole the items for whatever reason and that can be considered as I said before a burglary.

  2. I think the worst case is that when you’ve been suspected without knowing this kind of order. Well, every state has different law order so I guess the need to learn on that is needed so you’ll not get into trouble. Thank you for sharing this post!

  3. I would like to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this site. I am hoping to check out the same high-grade content from you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own blog now ;)|

  4. The audience might get seriously disappointed with a blogger’s content choices, especially if these are produced to solely please search engine crawlers. This 32-team national championship begins Thanksgiving weekend and is five rounds long and features 32 state-based teams.

  5. I like the idea of upgrading charges to burglary if there is proof that there was intent

  6. Ok so i was using a SHOPPING BAG to ahop with inside a store… I was looking at clearance jewelry and . Turned around and the police were there. I was arrested for shoplifting but i wasnt. I thought you had to leave the s gr8 ore to be considered stealing?

  7. Very informative and interesting post.It is really a big help. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. To know about lawyers in houston , attorneys in houston , real estate attroney in houston visit this page

  8. What if the store assumes you shoplift but called the police with your lisence plates .But you didn’t steal anything .Band it was only worth a $1

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