I'm sick and tired of having to spend 25 hours a day just to get change for sufficient food, and to go without for months consecutive.

Assuming, if provided a DA does not prosecute—What's the absolute worst that can happen, de facto, if you enter a [minimart / Safeway / Trader Joes / Walgreens etc] shop and just proceed eating and drinking what you need?

For example, opening a box of granola bars, not putting one into your pocket but unwrapping it and start eating. For example, unscrewing the cap of a bottle and pouring it, not towards the floor but the mouth (btw I can finish one of those half-litre ones well under 7 secs). Etc.

(I'm aware of the existence of trigger-happy guards, but this question ignores the unlucky cases where you get shot.)


2 Answers 2


You would probably be arrested and prosecuted for a misdemeanor offense called "shoplifting," punishable by up to 6 months in county jail. The assumption of the question that you would not be prosecuted at all by the DA is an unreasonable one, even though the DA in San Francisco may not take shoplifting particularly seriously.

The current San Francisco DA diverts cases to mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment in cases where those are viable options, but nothing in the question indicates that this is true in this case.

The actual punishment is more likely to be a few days in jail, followed by a guilty plea to time served sentence, accompanied by a criminal fine greater than the price of the food taken.

A better course of action would be to go to the county welfare office and apply for benefits, as you are almost surely eligible for at least some benefits.

  • I agree, but the question oddly says to assume that the DA does not prosecute. Not sure what to make of that
    – Jen
    Apr 9 at 20:38
  • 3
    @Jen The issue of shoplifting in San Francisco is a contentious one politically, with many accusing the San Francisco DA of doing little to stop it and deprioritizing it. See, e.g.sfgate.com/politics/article/… The current DA makes heavy "use of diversion programs, which re-route suspected offenders to mental health and substance abuse programs, rather than incarceration. . . . After Boudin took office in 2020, the diversion rate for petty theft reached a record high of 63.6%, while the conviction rate reached a record low of 7.3%.")
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 9 at 21:04
  • 1
    @Jen this is contentious because some people would rather see someone punished than see someone try to fix the underlying problems.
    – Dale M
    Apr 9 at 22:34
  • Would you only be arrested if you tried to leave the store without paying? I see people in the local supermarket eating things while they push their cart around. I assume that they scan the empty wrapper when they are checking out.
    – Peter M
    Apr 10 at 15:08
  • 1
    I can imagine an indigent person being OK with being arrested for this. They feed you in jail, don't they?
    – Barmar
    Apr 10 at 21:34

A security guard beats you to death.

You said to disregard the case where a security guard shoots you to death, but the incident you linked to involved the fatal gun violence occurring only after the security guard grappled with the shoplifter.

It's entirely possible that a physical confrontation of this kind where a security guard attempts to physically restrain you from continuing to consume the food could potentially result in fatal injuries, even without firearms becoming involved.

"I can't breathe" became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd for a reason, after all, and no firearms were involved in that particular incident.

  • Certainly worse than the situation where the company sues you in a civil court and your benefits are docked $1 a week till damages and costs are paid off (precise methods of getting your money may vary).
    – Stuart F
    Apr 10 at 15:46
  • 1
    While police enjoy a great amount of immunity, both de jure and de facto, I doubt a security guard can get away with the same defense. Beating a man (even if not to death) for taking a few candy bars is some "Les Miserables" level overreaction.
    – Barmar
    Apr 10 at 21:37
  • @Barmar I mean, it actually happened in the incident linked in the OP. If things had gone a bit more poorly it's possible that the criminal that got shot to death by a security guard could have struck their head on the floor and dies from the resulting brain injury during their initial tussle with the security guard.
    – nick012000
    Apr 11 at 10:03

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