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One time, without thinking, I put an item (which I intended to buy) from a store in my pocket. I immediately realized this wasn't a good idea, and took it out of my pocket, carried it in my hand for a while while I kept shopping, then went and paid for it and a couple other items.

Did I commit any crimes?

Could I be charged with theft for something that for a couple seconds, probably looked like I intended to shoplift?

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  • Why did you think "this wasn't a good idea"? Shoppers sometimes feel shopping carts aren't necessary, so they bring in reusable bags (that a store might even sell) to carry items to the checkout and out of the store. Sometimes, the reusable bag isn't necessary, and a pocket is enough.
    – Victor
    Jun 3, 2022 at 18:52

2 Answers 2

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You did not commit any crime, but that does not mean you cannot be charged with a crime.

Up to the point where you take the item back out of your pocket, a police officer would have probable cause to believe you were attempting to steal the merchandise, and probable cause is all he would need to charge you.

At trial, the government would have the burden of proving that you intended to actually steal the item, but it can satisfy that burden merely by showing that your actions were consistent with such an intention. You would have the option of testifying that you planned to pay for the item.

From there, it would be up to a jury to decide whether it believes you. If so, you should be acquitted. If not, you would likely be convicted, and your conviction would likely be affirmed on appeal.

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  • Thank you! So if I had been caught before taking it out of my pocket, I could have been charged and possibly convicted, but because I wasn't, I couldn't be charged now?
    – Someone
    May 5, 2022 at 1:12
  • @Someone Depending on the jurisdiction, you can probably still be charged now, even if you never put the item into your pocket, or even entered the store. Someone just has to file some paperwork to accuse you of committing a crime. If it's obvious that the prosecutors will lose, there would probably be a stay of proceedings on the charge, preventing it from going to trial.
    – Victor
    Jun 3, 2022 at 5:14
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No, since there was no dishonest intent of you keeping it for yourself.

Cambridge Business English Dictionary:

(the act of) dishonestly taking something that belongs to someone else and keeping it

Had you been caught beforhand, it would then be up to a judge to decide if your claim (defense) of just being absentminded at that moment is plausiable or not (no intent of keeping someone elses property).

Had you left the store, noticed the item and then returned to pay for it, then it would also not be theft (or attempted theft) since you showed your intent of not keeping someone elses property by returning to pay for it (thus making it your property).


Depending on the jurisdiction, criminal law is often written in such a way that

  • certain conditions must be fulfilled to fit a charge

A judge decides if the intent of the accused to fulfill these conditions existed or not.

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