Criminal defense attorney explains why you should avoid self-checkout lanes: ‘Theft by mistake’

A lawyer is going viral after sharing why she often suggests that shoppers avoid using self-checkout lanes.

Carrie Jernigan (@carriejernigan1), is a criminal defense attorney with more than 1 million followers on TikTok. Much of her page is dedicated to aspects of the legal system that TikTokers may not know about.

In one recent video, Jernigan said that she typically tells people to “steer clear” of self-checkout lanes. The reason? Shoplifters.

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As Jernigan explains it, she usually sees three kinds of people getting charged with shoplifting after using a self-checkout lane.

The first, she says, are professional shoplifters. The second group, however, are those guilty of what she calls “theft by mistake.” This, according to Jernigan, is where innocent people can get into trouble.

“These are the people that I genuinely think just forgot to scan an item,” she says. “It is usually something that was on the bottom rack of the cart … and when they are walking out, asset protection stops them.”

Jernigan explains that, in the early days of self-checkout, she noticed stores letting people off if they forgot to scan an item.

“They let almost all of these people either scan and pay for the item, or just let them go, but took the item they did not pay for,” she says.

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Now, however, stores aren’t as lenient, she says. Jernigan believes this is because shoplifters have become so adept at stealing from self-checkout lanes that stores no longer want to take a gamble on whether a theft was accidental.

“They have lost all sympathy, and they are just taking a ‘Tell it to the judge’ approach,” she adds.

Lastly, Jernigan breaks down the third group. These people, who she calls “the truly innocent,” are usually charged long after the day they bought something.

“It is something that [happens when] asset protection is doing a quality-control check, or inventory that weeks, days, months later comes up short,” she says. “So they will begin watching hours of video.”

These checks, she says, can sometimes result in shoppers getting charged unfairly, simply because they bought one of the items that went missing.

The stakes can quickly get high. Although shoplifting is usually considered a misdemeanor, many states can sentence offenders to a year in prison. If the charge is elevated to a felony, the prison time could be much longer.

Jernigan’s last bit of advice? Don’t pay in cash. As she explains at the end of the clip, that will make it even harder to prove what you did or didn’t buy.

If you’re innocent, Jernigan notes, it’s likely that you’ll eventually be able to present evidence to prove it. However, that comes at the cost of time, money and effort.

“At that point, so much damage has already been done,” she says.

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