As with any legal statute, every word of the Pennsylvania retail theft or shoplifting law at 18 Pa.C.S.A. §3929 was specifically chosen in order to spell out the elements which the prosecution must prove in order for a conviction. That being said, what needs to be proven is not always what you would think. For a conviction under PA shoplifting laws, direct evidence that you left a store with any unpaid merchandise is not required.
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Oscar Odell Stocks
In 2011, the Defendant, Oscar Stocks, entered a Hollister store in the King of Prussia Mall along with another man. The Defendant took three bottles of perfume, totaling $150.00, and concealed them in his friend’s backpack. The store’s loss-prevention officer witnessed this event.
Both individuals left the store. Upon leaving, they set off the alarm and they were then detained and arrested for retail theft. During his trial, the Defendant testified that he had no idea that the perfume was in his friend’s backpack. He also testified that he did not put the stolen merchandise in the backpack. Despite the testimony, the Defendant was convicted for retail theft and filed an appeal to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.
As the basis for his appeal, the Defendant argued that (1) there was no evidence that he left the store with any unpaid merchandise; (2) that the evidence only established that merchandise was found in possession of his friend; and (3) that there was no videotape or other recording that shows him removing the merchandise. From a legal standpoint, the Court narrowed the case to two important issues: whether the evidence was sufficient to meet the elements of retail theft and whether there was a requirement that videotape be produced by the prosecution.
The Court reviewed the case and ultimately upheld his conviction.
PA Shoplifting Laws: What do They Mean?
In upholding his conviction, the Court quoted the relevant sections of the retail theft statute and dissected the words to make it clear that there need not be direct evidence that the Defendant personally stole merchandise in order to be convicted under PA shoplifting laws. The Court concluded that if the prosecution can show that a person intentionally concealed merchandise and that he or she caused it to be stolen then a presumption is established that the individual concealed the merchandise to steal it. If the presumption is established and the presumption is not successfully challenged, then a person can be convicted of retail theft. The Court ultimately decided that Mr. Stocks is guilty of retail theft. The fact that the Defendant did not personally have any of the stolen merchandise was not dispositive. The testimony evidence by the arresting officer and the loss-prevention officer was enough to establish an intentional concealment of the merchandise by the Defendant, which is sufficient to support his retail theft conviction.
What About the Video Tape Evidence?
The Defendant’s final argument was that his conviction couldn’t stand because there wasn’t a video recording of the theft. This argument was briefly addressed by the Court and was quickly rejected. The Court stated that video recordings are not necessary to prove the elements of the crime. In this case, a videotape was not required to prove any element of the offense. The loss-prevention officer’s testimony alone was sufficient to prove each element of retail theft.
According to PA shoplifting laws, Retail theft can be charged as a low-level summary offense all the way to a felony charge, depending on the value of the stolen merchandise and the number of prior retail theft charges that a person has. As you can see in the Oscar Odell case direct evidence is not always necessary for a conviction. If you are accused of shoplifting or retail theft the best decision is to contact a lawyer to navigate the “grey area.”