Judge, City Attorney Discuss Growing Problem of Shoplifting
Paragould Daily Press - Saturday, August 7, 2004 10:39 PM CDT
by Miranda Remaklus

PARAGOULD -- While it may seem like a small matter, shoplifting is a crime that average citizens pay for every day.

According to Arkansas statute 5-36-102, shoplifting is the knowing concealment, upon his person or the person of another, of unpurchased goods or merchandise offered for sale by any store or other business establishment that shall give rise to a presumption that the actor took goods with the purpose of depriving the owner, or another person having interest therein.

Greene County District Judge Daniel Stidham explained that shoplifting is technically theft as defined by Arkansas law, but he further explained there is a distinct difference between theft and shoplifting which is stated in the statute.

"The only real difference between theft and shoplifting is the presumption created by the statute," Stidham said. "The presumption states that when you conceal items inside a store and then go out of the store without paying for them, you are presumed guilty of the crime."

Stidham said he has noticed an increase in shoplifting cases in Greene County. "It may be the unpleasant effect of the poor economy," he said. "Increasingly, we have seen people who are shoplifting food items as opposed to the normal items of consumer goods, such as jewelry and cosmetics."

Stidham explained that the usual sentencing for a first-offense shoplifter includes supervised probation, a $250 fine plus court costs, public service work and mandatory theft counseling classes.

"Additionally, a lifetime ban is imposed, prohibiting the shoplifter from ever entering that particular store again," Stidham said. He added that, if the person were to break this ban and enter the store, he or she would be charged with felony burglary.

For example, the district judge said, if a person is caught shoplifting at Fred's and, at another time, is caught shoplifting at Wal-Mart, it would be deemed a second-offense.

"Second offenders receive a jail sentence usually consisting of 30 days," Stidham said. He added that he plans to work with Paragould City Attorney Randy Philhours to develop a program that might deter shoplifters in Greene County, much as the hot check offenders program has deterred the writing of hot checks.

Stidham said he recently read a story about a person who was convicted of stealing gasoline and, as a part of the punishment, was ordered to wear a placard in public stating that he had been convicted of stealing gas.

"I think as far as shoplifting is concerned, justice should be as swift as we can make it," Philhours said. "This is a serious crime. I have always believed that justice delayed is justice denied."

Philhours explained that, if the punishment for shoplifters were made more serious, "it would make the criminal realize this is a bad thing to do."

He continued that some shoplifters think of the crime as an adventure.

"It's not," the attorney stressed. "We pay for their crime every day."

Philhours said he views the crime as a kind of epidemic.

"Wealthy movie stars shoplift," he said. "It's confounding that people who do shoplift will say they had the money to pay for it. It just never ceases to amaze me."

Philhours said he looks forward to working with Stidham on the creation of a deterrent program in Greene County.

"If we can come up with a good program to deter this crime, that would be great," he said.

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