Shoplifter Forced To Dress As Bert, Carry "I Got Caught Shoplifting At Halloween Express" Sign

Talk about a punishment that suits the crime.

A boy caught shoplifting at a Halloween store was forced to stand outside wearing a Bert from Sesame Street costume and holding a sign that proclaimed “I got caught shoplifting at Halloween express.” The owner told offered the boy the chance to undergo the humiliation instead of pressing charges.

The boy wore the suit and sign for six hours over two days. With the ensuing media coverage the stun earned, the boy has more than paid back his debts with publicity for the store.

Shoplifter Serves Time in Sesame Street Costume [Newsplex]
Shoplifting Teen In Virginia Made To Dress Up As Sesame Street Character As Punishment [MyFoxDC] (Thanks to GitEmSteveDave!)

Judge Orders Shoplifters To Wear Signs Reading “I Am A Thief I Stole From Walmart”

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  1. Scurvythepirate says:
    • Scurvythepirate says:

      Not to mention, this “lady” got charged for adultery a few months ago and was on national news for it. Real class act.

    • outshined says:

      Charged for adultery? Seriously? Even though she may be a moron, that’s a perfect example of where the guvmint needs to stay the hell out of it.

      • Scurvythepirate says:

        Well she was f’n the other person right on a picnic table in a public park where kids could see. You would think someone in their 40’s would know better.

  2. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    That’s hilarious. The “boy” was 18, though. Not so much a boy as a teenage miscreant.

  3. Megalomania says:

    As comical and “fair” as this seems, threatening someone with pressing charges is not a good precedent to be setting.

    • jason in boston says:

      What would be a reasonable solution in your opinion?

      • Megalomania says:

        I feel this was completely fair. I just think that threatening to press charges unless someone does something is not why we have a justice system. There have been stories here before about people who were accused of shoplifting at Walmart, then told to pay $200 or charges would be pressed. Where’s the line?

    • Thyme for an edit button says:

      It’s not a bad precedent to threaten someone with something you can actually do. This is not like slimy debt collectors saying they will have the cops arrest you for your credit debts because they can’t actually do that.

      The owner could have called the cops, but decided to offer an alternative to the kid so he wouldn’t be stuck with a criminal record. I think it’s a good outcome.

      • Megalomania says:

        Then what about when Walmart threatens to press charges unless you pay them $200? They can press charges too. Or what if the store reneges and files charges anyway?

      • Difdi says:

        Except they can’t do that. In many states, a store can demand payment from a shoplifter, yes. But that payment is an out-of-court settlement that the store is allowed to file against a shoplifter under state law. It has absolutely nothing to do with criminal charges or involving the police.

        Shopkeeper’s privilege is an enhanced citizen’s arrest, but like ANY citizen’s arrest, the person making the arrest has ZERO sentencing or punishing authority, and is absolutely required to call the police in a timely way to take custody of the suspected shoplifter. Failure to call the police after detaining a suspected shoplifter negates the possibility of claiming shopkeeper’s privilege, meaning the store employees may become convicted felons for doing so. Demanding money in exchange for not calling the police constitutes extortion; Given the amount typically charged as a “shoplifting fine”, the extortion is at the felony level. It is entirely possible for two people to place eachother under citizen’s arrest, and the police may arrive to find a shopkeeper detaining a customer on a misdemeanor charge, while the customer is detaining the shopkeeper on multiple felony charges. Falsely applying the privilege can also taint any future lawsuit against the shoplifter, if they refuse to pay the extortion.

    • dolemite says:

      I suppose if he didn’t want someone to be able to threaten to press charges, he shouldn’t have broken the law.

    • Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

      This was giving him a fair option. The merchant was “threatening” to do what is legally allowed, pressing charges against someone whole stole from them.

      Giving an adult (comments say he was over 18) the option to do this instead of being charged with shoplifting and having to go through the court system and probably having this on his permanent criminal record was MORE than fair. I think doing this for 6 hours was getting off cheap compared to the possible consequences.

      • Difdi says:

        Just one problem with that. You’re not just wrong, but absolutely wrong.

        The store is obligated to call the police as part of invoking shopkeeper’s privilege. Failing to do so makes all of their actions in stopping and detaining the guy criminal.

        While some states allow stores to charge a “fine” to shoplifters they catch, those state laws permit stores to sue shoplifters for damages, and the fine is an out-of-court settlement to a lawsuit. The store is still required by law to call the police, even if the shoplifter pays up. The civil side is separate from the criminal, and the store is required to call the police, or the civil “settlement” is invalidated; Coerced agreements are not legally binding. The guy in question can probably sue the store (and win) for back wages.

        Telling someone “Pay us or we’ll call the police and tell them you’re a thief” is felony extortion. Detaining someone, threatening them with retaliation (in most such statutes, calling the police is given as a valid example of extortionate threats), then receiving some sort of payment, then not calling the police is good for 3-5 in state prison, on top of any other misdemeanors and felonies committed during the extortion. What if he was falsely accused,

        • partofme says:

          Sooo, you call the police, inform and report. At the same time, you’re free to negotiate a mutually-agreeable civil settlement which will be active in lieu of criminal proceedings. On the shopkeepers end, there is still a difference between “getting the police involved” and “pressing charges”. They can choose not to do the latter at many stages after the police are involved. For the falsely accused, do what any falsely accused should do:
          1) Prove that it was a false accusation for the purpose of extortion
          2) ???? (probably involving a lawyer)
          3) PROFIT!

          • haggis for the soul says:

            So if he goes through with it and then the store prosecutes anyway, can he sue for breach of contract?

        • kobresia says:

          Back wages? Sure, if the kid could produce any sort of employment contract, and was actually, you know, working for the store.

          Extortion? Sure, if something of significant value was actually coerced in exchange for secrecy. But all that happened was that the kid agreed to publicly and voluntarily confess his attempted crime against the store, to avoid a greater penalty.

          This “shopkeeper’s privilege” to which you refer is still subject to discretion. I think you’ll find that the privilege includes not calling the police, not having them investigate, and not pressing charges, too. In fact, all it really does is protect shopkeepers against liability for false arrest in case they detain an innocent person for shoplifting. As long as they act in a reasonable manner and release the person quickly once innocence is established, it’s not false arrest. That doesn’t really apply when someone really *was* guilty of shoplifting, but the shopkeeper still can’t go too overboard due to other laws.


          The kid probably didn’t require too much convincing and is pleased with the arrangement, since it wasn’t unreasonable.
          The police are probably happy they didn’t have more paperwork for petty crap like petty theft.
          The courts and social workers are probably happy that there isn’t one more stupid juvenile case bogging them down.
          The taxpayers should be happy, because the police and courts aren’t wasting time on foolishness on the taxpayer dime, because a petty matter was resolved without their involvement.
          The store is probably happy that they didn’t waste any more time than necessary on a would-be crook and seem to have gotten some publicity out of it.

          Even if parties to such practical justice could be prosecuted on technicalities, everyone won here, so it’s not going to happen. As soon as the law becomes a victim itself, and only for its own sake, then we have far more serious social problems than petty shoplifting on our hands.

          • RandomHookup says:

            I don’t need an employment contract to prove employment (most of us don’t have contracts though applications and the like show intent). You could argue (maybe win/maybe not) that this was actually “work” (the shopkeeper probably couldn’t have the person clean his storeroom as punishment without violating an employment law). Probably not worth it, but an interesting concept nonetheless.

            IANAL, but I play one on Consumerist.

    • HungryGal says:

      TJ Maxx made me pay them $300 not to press charges against me when I got caught shoplifting years ago. It is “wrong” but it’s legal.

    • zibby says:

      Good point. Perhaps a nice cash reward would be more appropriate.

  4. jason in boston says:

    Seems fair. I don’t think this kid would shoplift again. This punishment fits the crime IMO. Although it was more of an agreement then punishment. Good jorb on the store manager’s logic.

  5. Nick1693 says:

    “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

    I feel like this fits under the “…cruel and unusual punishments…” section.

    • Nick1693 says:

      Whoops… just clicked through to the full article.

      Pretend my comment is for the other linked article. (Judge Orders Shoplifters To Wear Signs Reading “I Am A Thief I Stole From Walmart”)

      • Necoras says:

        Cruel? Hardly. Unusual, yes. There’s an argument to be made (and has been an issue in some cases) that because a punishment is unusual that is enough of a reason to declare it unconstitutional. I personally think that unusual punishments tend to be the most effective.

      • stock2mal says:

        Mst b t hrd t rd th fll rtcl bfr cmmntng. Dck.

    • stock2mal says:

      You are an idiot. He wasn’t forced to do this, he was given the punishment as an alternative to calling the police and filing criminal charges.

    • FredKlein says:

      “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed,

      Excessive is an extremely subjective term. What I might consider ‘excessive’ another might consider inadequate.

      nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

      Then how do you punish cruel and unusual crimes? :-)

    • dg says:

      I call bullshit on it being excessive or unusual. Locking him up in the stocks in front of the store and allowing people to throw tomatoes at him would be cruel (although, perhaps a bit archaic if not unusual).

      Having to wear a costume and standing in front of a costume store saying “I’m a dumb ass, tried shoplifting, got caught”? Seems like a great idea to me. Here’s why:

      * He’s in a costume – it’s humiliating to him, but no one knows who he is. This is better than going to Court and having the whole thing on the Public record.

      * No fine. No Court costs. No attorney. No wasting the Court’s time with this bullshit. No wasting the time of a public defender, or a prosecutor. No wasting the Police’s time. No sheriff or jail time. No free food and housing. No teaching him how to be a better criminal.

      * He stands outside, gets to THINK about what an asshole he was, people look at him, laugh, maybe spit on him, and he realizes that he was an idiot, and never should have done this. At the end of the day, his feet hurt and he made NO money that day. He comes back the next day – early probably while tired – and does the same thing. No way he’s going to want to do THAT again.

      Either he becomes a better thief, or he decides to get a real job, EARN the money for the craptastic costume, and buys it. I’m hoping the latter is the case, although if he’s a true sociopath, it could be the former.

      Still – this is a great solution. All shoplifters should have to go through this.

    • stormbird says:

      That’s for the federal government. People can choose to freely enter into agreements that negate protections (binding arbitration instead of a jury trial, etc). The thief chose to look like a moron rather than have a criminal record, pay a fine and possibly got to jail longer than six hours. Heck, it might have taken more than six hours to get bailed out.

  6. maddypilar says:

    His face isn’t even visible. How is this punishment?

    • The cake is a lie! says:

      He had to stand there for 12 hours while people laughed at him. You try doing that and tell me it isn’t a form of punishment. It certainly wasn’t pleasurable for him.

      • maddypilar says:

        It’s better than having a record.

      • Doubts42 says:

        But where is the humiliation of no one knows it is you? having to wear a sign that decries you as a thief but hides who you are is not very well thought out.

        • outlulz says:

          Who cares? This is what the manager wanted. The kid wont shoplift at his store anymore and the store got a ton of publicity. That’s all the manager probably cares about.

      • SixOfOne says:

        6 hours over two days is not 12 hours. That’s 3 hours a day.

    • CookiePuss says:

      I was thinking the same thing. They should have made him wear a ballerina costume.

    • Griking says:

      Exactly. It’s not really a punishment if nobody knows who he is.

  7. ginnel says:

    How is this humiliating? He’s wearing a mask.

  8. The cake is a lie! says:

    This post was brought to you by the letter T. ;) (can you find the missing one?)

  9. Thyme for an edit button says:

    I think it was a good idea. I think public humiliation is a good punishment.

  10. Macgyver says:

    I know we will never get an edit button, but when are the editors gonna get one?

    • JayDeEm says:

      They had one, but then this guy stole it, along with a few words from the article.

    • danmac says:

      I like the lack of an edit button…it forces me to live with the consequences of my asshattery.

    • kingofmars says:

      It takes a couple of hours for edits to make it though the system. That said, any complaints about typos should be emailed to the editor directly. This keeps the comments from filling up about an edit that will eventually be made by the editor

  11. jurisenpai says:

    Here, have a link to the story with actual details:

    This store has employees dressed up as Mario and Luigi waving signs in heavy traffic all day long – the shoplifter seems to have got off pretty damn easy.

  12. Hoss says:

    Seems like a publicity stunt!

    • bigdirty says:

      My thoughts exactly – no names given, even just first or last, not even the town where he was from. It sounds like going after free publicity rather than going the normal route of advertising the business.

  13. brianisthegreatest says:

    Just wondering when the copyright settlement firms will offer something like this.

  14. Shadowfax says:

    How is this humiliating? He gets to wear a full headpiece that disguises his identity.

    Not only that, how is CTW/Henson Productions going to feel that Bert is admitting to being a thief?

    • brianisthegreatest says:

      Good point. It wouldn’t bother me a bit if I were in a mask. However, I’ve seen several people hold up this sign without being in a costume. He got lucky!

    • MongoAngryMongoSmash says:

      Bert is evil. Everyone knows that. Even the Taliban.

  15. Difdi says:

    One problem. They can’t do that.

    “Do what we say or we’ll call the police and press charges” is extortion/coercion, which is a felony.

    Odds are, the shoplifter committed misdemeanor theft at worst (costume shop items that are expensive enough to be felony shoplifting tend to be locked up, or extremely large). But even if he did commit grand larceny, it doesn’t justify the store to commit felonies as well.

    Many places do permit a store to sue a shoplifter for single, double, or even treble damages. In those places, the store can assign an arbitrary fine to a shoplifter, typically $100-$300 per item, for even the cheapest items. But paying the fine is an out of court settlement on the civil lawsuit the store can file, it has nothing to do with the criminal law system. If the store detains the shoplifter (say, to slap them with a fine), then does not call the police, they negate any possible claim of shopkeeper’s privilege, meaning the detention was a gross misdemeanor or a felony, depending on whether they actually physically restrained the shoplifter. This adds multiple crimes to the tally.

    Shopkeeper’s privilege is an affirmative defense to criminal charges. That means the person so pleading must plead guilty to the charge, then ask the court to dismiss the charge on the basis of the privilege. This works exactly like a plea of self-defense on an assault/battery charge. But if the court finds that the privilege was improperly invoked, the defendant has already pled guilty to the charges and goes to prison!

    A store cannot refuse to call the police in the process of an exercise of shopkeeper’s privilege! Detaining someone solely for the purpose of extorting money is no longer the tort of unlawful detention or the misdemeanor of false imprisonment (or even the felony of false imprisonment by violence), it is the CAPITAL, federal crime of kidnapping!

    • Doubts42 says:

      “One problem. They can’t do that.”

      Ummm they did. They have pictures and everything.

      You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

      • Difdi says:

        If nobody did what they cannot legally do, we wouldn’t need police.

        Whoever coerced him into that costume needs to serve time in state prison, as the law demands.

        • CookiePuss says:

          After reading the article it turns out he attempted to steal a pair of fangs. They probably retail for a buck. Why burden the courts over a dollar if it can be settled out of court?

          I actually liked how the store owner purposefully had the kid wear a costume to conceal his identity as he didn’t want to out him or possibly ruin his life over a petty theft. That sounds like a genuinely nice guy who just wanted to teach the kid a lesson (which the kid willingly agreed to) and you think he should be thrown in prison. Not even jail but prison!

          The prisons are going to be full with Halloween coming. All the kids saying “Trick or treat!” will be thrown in prison. Either give them candy or they’ll play a trick on you. Lil extortionists!

    • outlulz says:

      You’re reading way too much into this.

      Let’s say we’re friends, we get into a heated argument, and you punch me and hurt me. Later on we calm down and I just ask that you pay my medical bill.

      Technically you’ve assaulted me and I can press charges. But I don’t because you’re making it up to me. Does that mean I’m committing felony extortion?

      • Difdi says:

        Depends on how you phrase it. Just asking me to pay your medical bill? Legal. Suing me if I don’t? Legal. Mentioning that you can’t afford the bill, and if I don’t pay, you might have to sue? Slightly gray area but probably legal. Actually threatening to sue? Crime. Threatening to call the police and have me arrested if I don’t pay your bill? Definitely a crime.

        Go look up extortion/coercion. In most cases, threatening retribution of any kind if your victim does not pay up somehow (pay money, dress as Bert, etc) is a crime. Threatening to call the police is explicitly mentioned as being extortion in a lot of states if payment is demanded “or else”,

        • gman863 says:

          “Actually threatening to sue” is a crime? Huh?

          Today, hundreds of thousands of individuals and corporations are threatening to sue someone over issues covered by criminal statutes that may not have been officially reported to a law enforcement agency.

          Do Microsoft or the RIAA file police reports on copyright infringement prior to their lawyers telling people to pay up or go to court? Doubtful. The same is true for the music licensing industry (ASCAP, BMI): Their “sales reps” hit quota by going into retail, office and dining establishments and listen for just one licensed song. Unless the business owner can prove their music is from a “licensed” source (DMX, Muzak, etc.), it’s pay up or get sued.

          Criminal negligence is also fair game. Poisioning thousands of people with contaminated eggs due to neglect of basic sanitation fits; however I haven’t seen a single story about the owner of the company dropping his soap in the jail shower.

    • 3skr1mad0r says:

      I actually took the time to read up on extortion and it seems you are right. I never knew that. Still, I think it was fair and would have taken that option as well.

    • cape1232 says:

      Thanks for taking the time to write such an informative comment.

    • Judah says:

      I think sometimes there is no need to get the police involved for stupid stuff like this. It’s more like both parties are satisfied so no charges are pressed.

    • dg says:

      So don’t word it as “do what we say or else we’ll press charges” – give the schmuck the choice:

      You have two choices – which ever you choose is entirely up to you. You can pick either.

      1) Stand outside in a costume holding up a sign. Full head gear so no one sees your face.

      2) We’ll call the cops and have you arrested for shoplifting.

      Which would you prefer?

  16. ElizabethD says:

    Small children could be traumatized by this. “Say it ain’t so, Bert!”

  17. MedicallyNeedy says:

    If I were that guy I’d add a bloody arm stump.

  18. phobos512 says:

    That’s awesome. We just had someone on the corner in front of a local furniture shop earlier this week with a sign “I’m a thief and I was caught red handed” I’d never seen anything like it!

    • Difdi says:

      The store manager can dress up in stripes, and stand next to him, with a sign that says “I am guilty of felony extortion and was caught red handed.”

  19. StarVapor says:

    It’s too bad Wall Street bankers aren’t forced to wear Robber Baron costumes and stand on Main Street in every town in America.

  20. gman863 says:

    Six hours?

    It’s better than Six Years!

  21. EvilTapioca says:

    I have absolutely no problem with this. Shaming people really makes them think about the consequences of their actions. Would you all jump on my grandmother for making me give a toy back and giving me a good talking to when I stole it as a child?

  22. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    Love it!!!Seems like a good alternative to a police record.

  23. varro says:

    That costume is so bad – I wonder if the store is combating shoplifting with trademark infringement.