Social Question

Cruiser's avatar

Does this punishment fit the crime?

Asked by Cruiser (40398points) October 16th, 2010

An 18-year-old Virginia man who was caught shoplifting at a costume store has accepted a rather unusual punishment.”

“Andrew Perry, the owner of the Halloween Express costume store in Charlottesville, told the light-fingered teenager that he would not call the police – if instead the youth stood in front of the store with a sign saying he was caught shoplifting.”

In a bizarre twist, Mr Perry also told the boy that he would have to dress as Sesame Street character Bert, as in Bert and Ernie. So the teenager agreed to spend six hours over two days in front of the store, in costume, holding a sign that reads: ‘I got caught shoplifting at Halloween Express.”

“Mr Perry said he came up with the unorthodox punishment because he didn’t want the shoplifter to have a criminal record.”

So I ask what my fellow Jellies think of citizens taking crime and punishment into their own hands like this store owner did. The kid agrees to do this and avoids a criminal record, tax dollars are saved from prosecuting petty crimes? Is this a good way to settle criminal issues or a disaster waiting to happen? Will others now want to take crime and punishment into their own hands??

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32 Answers

Rubrica's avatar

That is… odd.

Technically, it’s wrong; he’s committed a crime, and deserves to pay for it.

Morally, in my opinion, that’s really quite nice to hear, and the punishment itself is awesome.

josie's avatar

In my opinion:
In the case of most midemeanors, it is not a big deal if the folks involved are able to settle the issue by themselves.
In the case of felony crimes, one could argue that the victim is not simply the individual but The Poeple, and thus the matter should be settled by The State. Good question though.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It’s really quite brilliant from the owner’s perspective. Saves on possible court costs and time, it might warn off other people interested in shoplifting there, and look at the free advertising the store is getting.

As for the teen, he really lucked out. No official record and was allowed to cover his face with a mask. I hope the humiliation and whatever his parents do to push him are enough that it never occurs again.

chyna's avatar

I think it was a great way to solve the issue. Hopefully the kid will learn from this. Add to that he won’t have a record, at least for this transgression and never will again.

Kayak8's avatar

Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith) took care of Mayberry for years with just this kind of solution.

Brian1946's avatar


That’s an excellent example and it was that kind of law enforcement that made Mayberry the safest community in the US. ;-)

I think the only repeat offender there was Otis the town drunk.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

^ And Otis checked himself in and out of a cell. Very low-maintenance prisoner.

marinelife's avatar

I think it is a fine thing. When our store was robbed, my husband and I got to meet with one of the perpetrators and she gave us a letter of apology.

Seek's avatar

Works for me! Beautiful all around.

ducky_dnl's avatar

That punishment made me laugh. I agree that petty crime punishment should be handled by the store owner…or manager. Now if the boy had a weapon, that’s a different story and needs to be reported to the police.

john65pennington's avatar

I do not agree with this form of punishment by citizens. it circumvents the law. the law was not established for a private citizens own “personal gain”. meaning, the store owner receives free advertising, because he caught someone shoplifting.

Also, what if a car hits the shoplifter, while standing on the sidewalk? who is responsible for his injuries? the shopowner, since the shoplifter is technically under citizens arrest for two days.

Cruiser's avatar

@john65pennington Good answer and I think it could go beyond that as I would expect that young man is technically then an employee and a whole new set of legal issues are at play. That kid could now find a hot-shot lawyer and sue that shop owners ass into the ground for all sorts of causes. Hopefully it doesn’t go that far.

Seek's avatar

I’d like to point out: “the teenager agreed”

He was given a choice – hold a sign, or have a shoplifting charge on your record. How is that akin to citizen’s arrest?

john65pennington's avatar

Seek, ever heard of unlawful detention? he may have agreed to this form of punishment, BUT, this does not forbid the shoplifter from filing a civil lawsuit for unlawful detention, against the shopowner. it really borderlines blackmail. “you either do this or i will call the police”. a jury would consider this blackmail.

john65pennington's avatar

The shopowner may have initially had good intentions to help this shoplifter or he may not have. the shopowner has left himself wideopen to a multitude of civil lawsuits by taking this action. this is why you call the police, when you have placed a shoplifter under citizens arrest. its protocol for the business owner and the police. both know this.

Cruiser's avatar

^ ^ Massively ^ ^ good ^ ^ answer ^ ^

chyna's avatar

Sheesh, leave it to a cop to want to uphold the law.

LuckyGuy's avatar

If both the perp and the vic are good with it, I’m good with it.
Taking a case like that to court would cost many tens of thousands of dollars in lost wages, time, court costs, etc. If the kid was convicted there would be juvi, detention, counselling, and the potential to introduce him to an even more robust criminal. What a waste.
As a taxpayer I like the idea. Let court system spend time efficiently on the serious stuff.

ratboy's avatar

A warning shot to the forehead would have sufficed.

Trillian's avatar

“What will they do with me?”
“Oh, you’ll probably get away with crucifiction.”
CRUCIFICTION? Get away with Crucifiction?
“Yeah, first offense…”

Cruiser's avatar

@Trillian In the old days that was getting off easy!

iamthemob's avatar

I think this is a great solution. To claim that this circumvents the state is literally true, but essentially not the point. Courts in both the civil and criminal context are mandating in many cases mediation in order for parties to come to their own solution, so this kind of agreement is often supported by the state. Any contract would more than likely be voided, it’s true, as against public policy – but that just means that the agreement doesn’t exist, and either party can do whatever they want accordingly. Further, the state and the federal government have used this exact kind of punishment themselves – in San Fransisco, a man was required to stand in front of a post office stating that he had stolen mail as a condition to his parole, which was upheld on appeal. Issues brought up here were brought up there, and then some – and the court found it appropriate. Nearly the exact same punishment was agreed to by an individual caught shoplifting in Wal-Mart to avoid a 60-day sentence. Citizens have also done this before to avoid other forms of legal reprisal, such as a man who was forced to wear a sandwich board at rush hour by his wife revealing his infidelity, more than likely to avoid divorce.

I see where @john65pennington is coming from, and indeed, the shopowner would open himself up to liability if something were to go wrong. That’s his choice, though – it’s not circumventing the law, because he also could have let the shoplifter go. It’s more than likely not unlawful detention, though, as the detention must be one without any legal reason. It also wouldn’t be extortion or blackmail, as part of the definition requires that something of value be given so that someone will withhold damaging information. The punishment here is revealing that information, in public – and too the police, in fact. In essence, he has contacted the police – he has refused to press charges.

There’s really nothing here circumventing the law, and creative punishment is both utilized and necessary considering the failure of our current system to prevent recidivism in any way. It also fosters understanding between victim and perpetrator. It has its limits, of course, but this type of situation is exactly where it seems called for.

john65pennington's avatar

Jamthemob, i re-read the question and i do not see where the shopowner ever contacted the police. he threatened the shoplifter TO call the police, but never did. did i miss something?

iamthemob's avatar


He never called the police. However, the police would have been informed or may have been informed by the sign the shoplifter was holding. If the problem were really informing the police, what does the person gain from holding a sign out in the public? Nothing, as the police are likely to see. What the owner is really doing is refusing to press charges as long as the kid agrees to hold the sign in costume. No direct contact, it’s true – but when the police are likely to be informed, is there really a substantial difference? I don’t think so, as even if they were contacted, the citizen can refuse to press charges and the police would have no complaining witness.

Mikewlf337's avatar

I think it’s a fair trade. He avoided a ciminal record and was humiliated for his crime. Win win!

Brian1946's avatar


GA. You should run for Mayberry city attorney. ;-)

iamthemob's avatar

Mayberry’s gone downhill ever since the sheriff left to become a defense attorney, the deputy left to become a landlord to three sexually confusing twenty-somethings, and Opie went on to direct movies that continue to get sappier and sappier.

tearsxsolitude's avatar

I think it was a really thoughtful thing of the man to do. He seems to really care. I’d be much more likely to respect a man like that if he handled things as such. If I knew a man like that I’d show him the utmost respect and I’m sure that other kids my age would as well. We have a vice principle that is somewhat like that and everyone at school adores him. Everyone listens to him. Even the die hard stoners and future drop outs. They respect him and they listen to him. I think he handled it very well. Besides, kids at my school brag about criminal records, they wouldn’t be bragging about that.

daytonamisticrip's avatar

I think the store owner was stupid to do that but it probably taught the kid not to steal better than going to the police station and his mom paying for his mistake.

john65pennington's avatar

I had a similar case in a huge shopping mall. a girl was caught shoplifting inside a cheap jewelry store. the police were called. it just so happened that a personal injury accident had occured on the interstate, with personal injury, and i was rerouted to assist in this call and the shoplifter had to wait for 3 to 4 hours. the shoplifter was a juvenile and her parents were not notified of her location for such a long period of time. the store security decided to let her go, if she signed a paper promising not to return for three years. out of this incident, a civil lawsuit developed that charged the store with unlawful detention. it was based on the 3 to 4 hours the store detained their daughter, without the police arriving and letting her go. the store eventually settled this case out of court. point here is: the store should have waited longer for the police to arrive and to issue a juvenile citation for shoplifting. this would have covered the store for any civil litigation. the store did not do this. instead, the juvenile signed a piece of paper(without her parents being present) and the store was sued. i realize this shoplifter was an adult, age 18. even though he agreed to the two days of advertising, in lieu of arrest, it still leaves the storeowner open to civil liability, since the police were not called and the agreement did not take place in front of police officers. by agreeing in front of police officers to this arrangement, it would have been a verbal contract, that was witnessed by the police and would have placed the storeowner in a much more civil-free situation. but now, he has opened pandora’s box for civil liability.

iamthemob's avatar


It’s a civil agreement. It doesn’t need to take place in front of police officers. I understand the concern about civil liability…but an agreement between adults does not become open to more liability because it wasn’t observed by a police officer. I don’t see how, if the police were called, this would make the agreement any more valid. The person is over 18, and so can agree to do this. The store owner is over 18, and should know he’ll be held responsible for anything that happens because of this agreement. The presence of a police officer will not affect liability in any of the cases arising under this, as your example relates to a suit brought by a parent because the juvenile did something arguably under influence without consent of the parents. I know you recognize it, but if the shoplifter were 40, would you still argue that police be present? If not, then it doesn’t make a difference if he’s 18.

I get where your concerns are coming from – but I think that the situations your concerned about are hypotheticals. We should see if these solutions can work, before concerns about rare occurrences (e.g., physical harm when holding sign in suit) come into play to prevent them.

Kayak8's avatar

@iamthemob I truly laughed out loud at your accounting of Mayberry’s ruin!

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