Legal Dictionary


Definition of shoplift


    Back-formation from shoplifter.


shoplift (third-person singular simple present shoplifts, present participle shoplifting, simple past and past participle shoplifted)

  1. (transitive) To steal something from a shop / store during trading hours.

    2004: She taught Maddy to sing in Portuguese, to shoplift mascara, to play a drinking game called Spoons - Andrew Sean Greer, in The New Yorker, 17 May 2004

  2. (intransitive) To steal from shops / stores during trading hours.

    2002: In other words, New York is a better place to shoplift. - The New Yorker, 25 Nov 2002

See also

Further reading

Shoplifting (also known as five-finger discount, or shrinkage within the retail industry) is theft of goods from a retail establishment. It is one of the most common property crimes dealt with by police and courts.

Most shoplifters are amateurs; however, there are people and groups who make their living from shoplifting, and they tend to be more skilled. Generally, criminal theft involves taking possession of property illegally. In the case of shoplifting, though, customers are allowed by the property owner to take physical possession of the property (holding it in their hands or in a shopping cart controlled by them, for instance). This leaves areas of ambiguity that could criminalize some people for simple mistakes (such as accidental hiding of a small item or forgetting to pay). That is one of the reasons that penalties for shoplifting are generally lower than those for general theft. However, in practice most stores are aware of the hazards of making a false arrest and are instructed to be sure there is no doubt (ambiguity) before they make the arrest. Trained staff know the basics, observe the person, observe the item, observe the concealment (theft), keep constant unrestricted contact with the shoplifter, wait until the shoplifter leaves the store - make the arrest. As for penalties being less for shoplifter vs for "general" theft, in most states there is no specific "shoplifting" law; rather, shoplifting is charged simply as "theft". If the dollar amount of the item stolen is low it is a lower (less serious) theft crime. If the dollar value is higher, it is a more serious theft crime.

Legal aspects

Shoplifting is considered a form of theft and is subject to prosecution.

In the state of California, and in most cases the rest of the United States, store employees and managers have certain powers of arrest. Store officials may detain for investigation (for a reasonable length of time), the person who they have probable cause to believe is attempting to take or has unlawfully taken merchandise. At the very least, staff usually have citizen's arrest powers.

Title 13, Chapter 5, of the California Penal Code Section 490.5(f)(1) allows an employee to detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable amount of time.

Generally, in the United States, the store employees who detain suspects outside of and inside the store premises are allowed by state statute limited powers of arrest and have the power to initiate criminal arrests or civil sanctions, or both, depending upon the policy of the retailer and the state statutes governing civil demands and civil recovery for shoplifting as reconciled with the criminal laws of the jurisdiction.

Retailers in the United States may have the authority under state laws to request Civil Recovery Demands (Shoplifting).


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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