man in the self checkout line

Theft Charges in the Self-Checkout Lane vs Traditional Checkout

By Joel Hancock

The self-checkout lane has become one of the most popular ways for many people to buy things. It is convenient and often faster than waiting at a traditional checkout lane. You simply scan your own items, choose your payment method, pay, bag your things, and leave. However, many retailers are finding out that the self-checkout lane can also be a great place for shoplifters to walk out with things they didn’t buy. While many folks may think of shoplifting as a victimless crime, last year, retailers are estimated to have lost over $86 billion in retail theft. While not all of it can be attributed to shoplifting, the average shoplifting incident costs retailers about $460. 

But what happens when you make a mistake and forget to scan one of your items? While it seems like a minor mistake, walking out of a store with an item you didn’t pay for because you forgot to scan it can land you in some hot water, causing you to need to hire a criminal defense attorney.

The Accidental Shoplifter

There are two possibilities when you walk out of a store with something you didn’t buy because it wasn’t scanned. If you went to a traditional checkout line and the clerk forgot to ring up an item, that mistake is on the store. They are the ones responsible for training and supervising the person working the register, and you as the customer cannot be held liable for the mistake. But, if you used a self-checkout, then the issue will be more complicated.

Shoplifting Charges in North Carolina

There are two types of shoplifting charges in North Carolina, but only one really applies to this situation. The first is concealment of goods, which is when a person hides an item either in a bag or somewhere on their person. For example, a shopper might try to drop a lipstick into his or her handbag when no one is looking. That is not the situation here. The other is called larceny of goods. This is when a person leaves a store with an item that he or she did not pay for. This is a much more serious offense than concealment of goods, which is usually a Class 3 misdemeanor if a person is caught.

A person arrested for larceny of goods in North Carolina could face felony charges depending on the value of the items they took from the store. If the amount allegedly stolen is less than $1,000, the person will be facing a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is still more serious than the Class 2 misdemeanor for concealment. But if the value is over $1,000, or was something like a firearm or an explosive device, then the charges will probably be a Class H felony. In either case, if you failed to scan and got arrested, you are going to need to hire an experienced theft defense attorney.

What if your failure to scan was an accident?

If you walk out of a self-checkout line with an item you didn’t properly scan, leave the store, and are arrested, you will argue that you made a mistake. It could be that you tried to scan the item but the scanner malfunctioned. You could have forgotten to scan the item because you left it in your shopping cart. Many newer scanners have a feature that requires you to place all of your items in a bagging area before you complete your transaction. 

However, all of this will depend on the particular facts of your case. The prosecution will try to show an intent to steal based on your actions. Many scanners also have cameras that record your actions during the entire transaction. This will show whether you did anything suspicious, like placing an item into a shopping bag without scanning it first and putting it in a bagging area.

In any event, you are going to want to take extra care when using a self-checkout. Make sure that you scan every item in your shopping cart, and place everything you do scan into the bagging area. In addition, you should check your receipt before leaving the store to make sure you paid for everything you think you purchased. Getting arrested for shoplifting because you didn’t use the scanner properly can be a very costly mistake.

Contact The Hancock Law Firm Today

The Hancock Law Firm is one of the leading criminal defense firms in North Carolina. If you need representation because you are facing shoplifting charges, call our firm today so that our experienced criminal defense attorney can provide you with the representation you need to protect your rights.

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.