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At the grocery store, you absent-mindedly put a pack of gum in your pocket instead of in the cart.

Suddenly, store security confronts you about shoplifting. You defend yourself, saying you’re no thief, but the security guard won’t back down. He’s already called the police, he says.

That’s all it takes to be arrested on shoplifting charges in South Carolina—the claim from a merchant, security or police officer that you are shoplifting.

The Basics of Shoplifting Laws

In South Carolina, shoplifting laws define the actions that count as a crime along with legal vocabulary and permissible presumptions. If you or a loved one has been charged with shoplifting, understanding these basics will help you prepare for what lies ahead.


There are three ways to violate shoplifting laws in our state.

  1. Taking possession of or moving an item in a store from one person to another or from one area of the store to another with the intention of not paying full price for the merchandise.
  2. Altering, transferring or removing a label or price tag from merchandise with the intention of not paying full retail value for the item.
  3. Moving an item from its original container into another container with the intention of not paying full value for the merchandise.


The state’s Code of Laws provides the following definitions of legal terms that are used to describe the crime of shoplifting.

  • Conceal: To hide merchandise on an individual or in his or her belongings so that the merchandise isn’t quite noticeable
  • Full retail value: The advertised price for merchandise
  • Merchandise: Any goods that are for sale, regardless of price, including food or any wares
  • Merchant: The owner or operator of a retail establishment and his or her employees, independent contractors or franchisees
  • Store or other retail mercantile establishments: A place where merchandise is displayed, offered for sale and sold to the public


In shoplifting cases, law enforcement is allowed to build a case against if you behave suspiciously while in a store. You don’t have to be stealing something to be charged with shoplifting. The law describes three inferences that allow a shoplifting accusation.

  1. If a person conceals merchandise, the presumption is that the individual concealed the item with the intent of not paying for it.
  2. An item is found hidden on a person or in his or her belongings is considered “willful concealment,” and the presumption is that the person intended not to pay the purchase price.
  3. If an item is hidden on another person—such as a friend, child or significant other—the presumption is that he or she also intended to take the item without paying for it.

Penalties for Shoplifting

The consequences for a shoplifting conviction depend on the value of the item, or items, shoplifted. The sentence can include a fine, jail time, or both.

Value of item(s)ChargeCourtFineJail Time
$2,000 or lessMisdemeanorMagistrate’s or Municipal CourtUp to $1,000Up to 30 days
$2,000 to $10,00FelonyGeneral Sessions CourtUp to $1,000Up to 5 years
$10,000 or moreFelonyGeneral Sessions CourtNoneUp to 10 years

Reporting Shoplifting Charges and Convictions

Shoplifting charges and convictions will become part of your record per the state’s crime reporting guidelines. The following information is reported to the Communications Division of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED):

  • First time shoplifting prosecution—even if you weren’t convicted
  • Second time shoplifting convictions

Your charges and convictions count as a prior criminal record, meaning that law enforcement and others can access this information. Having a previous record can affect the outcome of future charges because a judge can take your criminal record into account during sentencing.

Let us fight for you.

Have you been accused of shoplifting in South Carolina? If so, don’t just sit back and hope for everything turns out alright.

A shoplifting conviction can have a lasting—and negative—impact on your life going forward. For instance, the presence of criminal charges on your record could prevent you from getting a good job or keep you from getting approved for a lease for a home.

You need to take action now to ensure your future, and it’s okay to ask for help. An experienced criminal defense attorney can examine the facts of your case and build a strong defense to the charges against you.

Whether you just have questions about your case or you’re ready to hire a lawyer, the team at Kent Collins Law Firm is here to fight for you. To schedule a free consultation, complete our online form or call 803-808-0905 to speak with a lawyer today.

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