This was inspired by the title of the following:

In a state with the common law definition of theft, can you force a store to take cash by "pretending" to steal?

but in this situation, we make the crime actually pretend. Suppose you are good at sleight of hand, i.e. dextrous illusion-making like a magician. Using a product or good you actually own that looks to an outsider's eyes just like one in the store, but which you've marked in a discreet place so you are assured you don't accidentally actually take the one that isn't yours, and using your magician skills, you make it look like you were pocketing the wares when you actually didn't. To security, and to the limited resolution on a surveillance camera, it looks like a theft, and the police are called.

What happens? Even if the illusionary nature is eventually discovered and proven (e.g. if the store keeps suitable inventory records which they can cross-check with transaction logs and they do and find that no items are unaccounted for), does the mere fact of having "hoaxed" the crime itself constitute some kind of crime in at least the same common-law jurisdictions? Could you be charged with something oblique like "wasting police time" or something? Could someone be charged with that? Even if none of that, would you still stand a strong chance to be successfully convicted of theft directly (albeit de facto wrongfully, but still), because someone could always claim you switched the items and it'd be your word against theirs that that mark was on the one you owned and not the one you didn't, and the injustices of unequal bargaining power would work against you?

  • I don't see the relevance of "injustices of unequal bargaining power." The hoaxer set out to convince people of the commission of a theft and subsequently fails to unconvince them. If the court is persuaded beyond reasonable doubt the hoaxer committed the theft, why wouldn't the hoaxer be convicted? The court is not psychic.
    – Lag
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 11:20
  • "injustices of unequal bargaining power," no this is known as being hoisted by your own petard. As to the possibility of actual conviction, let's hope so.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 14:21
  • 1
    "What would happen if you staged or hoaxed the commission of a crime?" It surely depends on the crime.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 20:40
  • @Tiger Guy: I'd be inclined agree with your factual conclusions, but wishing for a technically improper application of the law to suit your appetite for vengeance/talion, instead of wishing for new law (i.e. saying "it's not per se illegal but imo it should be" instead of "let's hope so"), is to undermine the circumscription of power that the rule-of-law ideal constitutes and so is baby steps on the long road to dictatorship. Much better to have their "petard" break while "hoisting" than to have a dictatorship I think. Commented Jul 28, 2022 at 21:45
  • @The_Sympathizer, I disagree. Someone trying to game the law deserves what they get. It isn't written law, but it's the law of the streets: don't start nothing, won't be nothing.
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 5:27

1 Answer 1


I can’t think of any laws against pretending to commit a crime, per se. For example, undercover police officers often pretend to buy or sell illicit goods, to see who will take them up on the offer.

However, pretending to commit some crimes could be a crime. if you intentionally pretend to be violent or unstable, and this “puts another person in reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful or offensive contact,” that could be common assault.

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