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Criminal Defense Attorney | How You Can Still Be Charged with a Theft Crime Even If You Paid for the Item

Jan 31

How You Can Still Be Charged with a Theft Crime Even If You Paid for the Item

Under ARS 13-1802, a person commits theft when they take the property of another with the intent to deprive the owner of that object. This definition may conjure images of someone going into a store, taking merchandise off a shelf, and leaving without paying for it. And while that falls under one of the paragraphs of Arizona’s shoplifting law, instances exist in which you (or any other person) can be charged with a theft crime even if you paid for the item. How? By altering its universal product code.


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Using Some Type of Artifice to Affect the Price of an Item

Usually, when you purchase merchandise from a store, the item will have affixed to it a universal product code (UPC). This barcode is a bunch of lines of varying sizes that help establishments keep merchandise organized and ensure customers are paying the correct prices.

UPCs are unique for each item, which means when you go to check out, the system will read that code, identify the item, and return the purchase price. Of course, some products cost more than others, and the different prices will show up when the UPC is scanned.

But let’s say you go to a store, and you know that a smartphone tripod costs less than a printer you need. Understanding how UPCs work, you remove the label from the tripod and attach it to the printer’s package. When the cashier runs the printer across the scanner, it rings up not at $140 (the actual price of the item) but at $25 (the price of the tripod).

You hand the cashier the money and leave the store. Now, although money was exchanged for the printer, you didn’t pay the actual cost. Your actions would be considered unlawful under Arizona’s shoplifting statute.


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Paragraph 3 of the law provides that a person commits the offense when they pay less than the purchase price by doing any of the following to an item’s label:

  • Altering,
  • Removing,
  • Substituting, or
  • Disfiguring

The penalties you could face for engaging in such conduct depend on the value of the item you left the store with. The offense can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

Other Charges that May Apply

If you replace the UPC of an expensive item with one for a more expensive product, shoplifting charges aren’t the only you could face. Arizona also has a law that prohibits altering a barcode. It states that if someone, with the intent to defraud a merchant, changes a barcode, they could be charged with a class 6 felony. In addition to any fines imposed, a judge may also order you to pay a fine of up to 3 times the actual purchase price of the item you took.


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