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If I understand correctly, (a) under common law, theft requires an intent to permanently deprive the owner, and (b) legal tender only applies to debts, not purchases. B is the reason why stores do not have to accept cash. However, if I take goods out of the store without paying, but with the intent to pay later, I have not stolen the goods. By taking them, however, I now owe their value to the store. At this point, it is a debt; can I now insist on paying in cash even if the store does not want to take it?

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    I'd note that it's unclear whether you owe the store the value of the item stolen, or the item itself.
    – bdb484
    Jul 28 at 0:24
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    I'm guessing that the answer is no for some reason that I can't quite explain which might make it a dumb question but not knowing the answer I really like this question.
    – Joseph P.
    Jul 28 at 0:48
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    By the same logic, if I take some item from another person's house while I'm visiting them, but leave cash, that's legally above-board because I've balanced the debt. It doesn't work that way because the other person didn't agree to the transaction. Likewise the purchase of items from a store is implicitly a transaction that the store is agreeing to through the process of buying it. Bypassing the purchase-process is still theft because it's not a transaction, and they definitely don't have to arbitrarily take cash for it. Stores don't have to sell you things. It's their purpose but not a rule.
    – Rowan
    Jul 28 at 8:31
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    Seems like theft is still theft even if you pay the victim money. Transaction or a loan must be agreed by both sides. Jul 28 at 11:11
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    This question has some serious scammer-energy here. Might as well take money from someone's wallet with the intent of giving them enough good for it later.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Jul 28 at 18:29

3 Answers 3

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This is a good example of the life of the law being experience and not reason.

While there is a logical argument that this isn't theft, in reality, this conduct would universally be considered an open and shut case of shoplifting and anyone who tried this would surely be convicted of a crime with consequences far more severe than creating a tort debt for conversion of the property.

Also, you do intend to permanently deprive the store of its property. The fact that you intend to remedy that by paying for it doesn't change that. You aren't borrowing the property with an intent of returning it.

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    To put it another way: the common-law definition of theft asks whether you intend to permanently deprive the store of the merchandise, not whether you intend to pay. Because you intended to keep the property, the fact that you intended to pay at a later date or time is not really relevant.
    – bdb484
    Jul 28 at 0:05
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    Yeah I was going to say that for it to work you'd have to actually leave the premises of the store with it, and you'd have to do that without being noticed because stores frequently have measures in place to detect and prevent shoplifting. So you'd be shoplifting and that in itself would probably invoke various specific criminal statutes that explicitly define the act of shoplifting ie surreptitiously removing goods from a shop without first paying for them in an accepted way as a criminal offense.
    – Joseph P.
    Jul 28 at 0:52
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    Also by this logic you could basically buy any possession of anyone at all even though they are not wishing to sell it simply by taking it and then paying them the value for it in currency at a later date. But if it's something that doesn't have a price tag to which the principles of common law would still surely apply who would be able to decide what value should be repaid so as to settle the debt?
    – Joseph P.
    Jul 28 at 0:54
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    the defense of "but I was going to pay for it later" not likely to be a winner
    – Tiger Guy
    Jul 28 at 14:24
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    The definition of theft under English law explicitly states "A person’s appropriation of property belonging to another may be dishonest notwithstanding that he is willing to pay for the property." Which supports the view that it's still stealing.
    – Stuart F
    Jul 28 at 15:31
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The store is only suggesting a price, that's called "an offer to treat". You can't demand the store honour the suggested price, it is only when you make an offer to the store, with money, and they accept your offer to them, that the contract for sale is completed. You do not get to take an item, and then unilaterally decide what the value of the item is.

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  • Welcome to LawSE. This does not seem to answer the question whether pretending to steal an item is theft. Note that "Answer posts that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed". You can see how things works here by taking the Tour and reading through our Help centre - especially the part on How do I write a good answer?.
    – Rick
    Jul 29 at 12:10
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    @Rick The question is "can you force a store to take cash", therefore I think this answer is relevant. Jul 29 at 14:59
  • //"You can't demand the store honour the suggested price,"// Actually, in my state (Vermont) you can demand that the store honor the price displayed on the product or on the shelf where the product is presented if that price is lower than what the cash register at the point-of-sale rings up. Retail bait-and-switch is illegal in Vermont. Aug 5 at 18:24
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You taking an article from a shop and the shop taking money from you are two separate events that may be connected by an agreement to make a sale, a contract that is proven to exist by the receipt.

You cannot force, unless very special and specific circumstances warrant it, someone into a contract. The shop is not obligated to sell anything to anyone (unless specific legislation says so).

Your claim that taking an article out of a shop with the intent to pay later is not theft may be a thesis you can bring up in court but you can still be prosecuted for shoplifting. Whether the fact-finder (most probably a jury) believes your declaration of intent is up to debate; as of this posting, courts can't read minds (and let's hope it stays like this).

These claims, should you make them outside court, may be dismissed as hearsay because they may be considered self-serving statements.

A self-serving declaration refers to a statement made by a party in his/ her own interest at some place and time out of court. It does not include testimony which the party gives as a witness at the trial.

Self-serving declarations are hearsay. “The purpose of the rule rendering hearsay evidence inadmissible is to prevent manufacturing evidence; hence self-serving declarations are excluded by courts”. [Hill v. Talbert, 210 Ark. 866 (Ark. 1946)] ref

What is shoplifting anyway? (emphasis mine)

Shoplifting is generally defined as the unauthorized removal of merchandise from a store without paying for it, or intentionally paying less for an item than its sale price. However, shoplifting can include carrying, hiding, concealing, or otherwise manipulating merchandise with the intent of taking it or paying less for it.

In many states, shoplifting is considered to be a form of larceny and may be prosecuted as such. Other states differentiate between the crimes of shoplifting and general theft for purposes of charging and sentencing, and treat shoplifting less severely than other theft offenses (such as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor). [ref]

In , you don't even need to leave the shop, just enter it and behave in a way that raises suspicion.

459.5. (a) Notwithstanding Section 459, shoplifting is defined as entering a commercial establishment with intent to commit larceny while that establishment is open during regular business hours, where the value of the property that is taken or intended to be taken does not exceed nine hundred fifty dollars ($950). [ref]

Again the pesky "intent" but any search of previous trials of shoplifting (not many recent ones, I reckon) may show you how prosecution determines intent.

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  • +1 for mentioning, multiple times, the tricky issues of INTENT.
    – X Goodrich
    Jul 29 at 20:47
  • I think that concealing the unpaid-for merchandise on one's person, or a container (like a shopping bag with items apparently purchased in another store) could be considered intent. Of course, if I were the security of a store observing a suspect concealing unpaid-for merchandise, I would surveil that person until they actually step outside of the store with the shoplifted booty and then bust them. Jul 31 at 1:44
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    @robertbristow-johnson the shop security has the power to detain the suspect until police arrives. They don't let the alleged shoplifter leave the shop or they lose it.
    – Mindwin
    Aug 5 at 14:12
  • I know that, @Mindwin . I just think that the case is stronger that the shoplifter intended to steal the merch when the person is busted outside, or at least past the point-of-sale checkout of the store, with the unpaid merch. If they concealed merch before getting to or getting past the POS checkout, they might argue that they had always intended to pay for the merch. Busting them after they pass the POS checkout leaves little doubt as to what their intent is. Aug 5 at 18:20
  • @robertbristow-johnson some shops really don't care. There are cases of people being busted for throwing a coat over the shopping cart. One such example (not exhaustive) samsachs.com/criminal-defense/common-shoplifting-targets
    – Mindwin
    Aug 5 at 19:37

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