Lee v. State

59 Md.App. 28, 474 A.2d 537 (1984)

Quick Summary

Quick Summary Icon

Joe William Lee, Jr. (defendant) was convicted of theft after concealing a bottle of cognac in a self-service liquor store without exiting the premises. Lee appealed, challenging whether his in-store actions constituted theft.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that concealing merchandise with intent to deprive ownership sufficed for a theft conviction. The court’s decision affirmed Lee’s conviction based on his unauthorized control and intent to deprive the store owner of property.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

Joe William Lee, Jr. (defendant) found himself under scrutiny after visiting a pharmacy-liquor convenience store. An employee observed Lee as he concealed a bottle of cognac in his pants while simultaneously holding another bottle in his hand.

Upon confrontation by the store employee, Lee returned the bottles to the shelf and hastily exited the store. A pursuit ensued, during which the employee managed to signal a police cruiser, leading to Lee’s arrest and subsequent charge of theft.

Following his conviction and a one-year prison sentence, Lee challenged the decision, arguing that his actions within the store did not meet the legal definition of theft since he did not leave the premises with the merchandise.

His appeal brought into question the application of theft law to shoplifting incidents in self-service stores and whether concealment of goods without exiting the store could constitute sufficient evidence for a theft conviction.

Procedural Posture and History

History Icon
  1. Lee was initially convicted of theft under $300.00 by the Circuit Court for Baltimore County and sentenced to one year in prison.
  2. Lee appealed his conviction to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether a person can be convicted of theft for shoplifting in a self-service store if the merchandise is not removed from the store premises.

Rule of Law

Rule Icon

The legal interpretation of theft includes unauthorized control over property with the intent to deprive the owner, even if the goods are not removed from the store premises.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The appellate court examined the evolution of common law larceny into modern statutory theft, emphasizing intent and control over property as key factors over physical removal from premises. The court recognized that in self-service stores, customers have implied permission to handle merchandise, which does not equate to ownership or right to conceal.

The court argued that Lee’s act of hiding the liquor bottle constituted unauthorized control and was indicative of an intent to deprive the store owner of property, fulfilling the criteria for theft as defined by Maryland law.

In its analysis, the court referenced similar decisions from other jurisdictions and highlighted several factors that could indicate larcenous intent—such as concealment of goods, suspicious behavior, fleeing upon confrontation, and proximity to exits. The court concluded that these behaviors could infer an intent to steal without needing evidence of leaving the store with stolen items.


Conclusion Icon

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the theft conviction, stating that Lee’s actions met the statutory requirements for theft despite him not leaving the store with the merchandise.

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. Concealment of merchandise within a self-service store may constitute theft even if the accused does not exit the premises with the items.
  2. The court’s decision underscores intent and unauthorized control as pivotal elements in determining theft, rather than focusing solely on physical removal from premises.
  3. The ruling sets a precedent that actions within a store inconsistent with ownership rights can infer larcenous intent.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What constitutes intent to deprive in theft cases?

Intent to deprive is established when an individual acts with the purpose of permanently or temporarily withholding property from the rightful owner, without their permission or consent. Intent can be inferred from actions such as hiding, attempting to remove, or use of the property inconsistent with the owner’s rights.

  • For example: If a person slips a valuable pen into their pocket at a friend’s house with the thought of ‘borrowing’ it indefinitely without asking, this could demonstrate intent to deprive the owner of their property.

How does implied permission affect the legality of handling merchandise in stores?

Implied permission in stores allows customers to handle merchandise reasonably while deciding on a purchase but does not extend to acts that demonstrate ownership such as concealment, removal, or tampering. Exceeding this implied scope can lead to legal consequences.

  • For example: A shopper trying on a bracelet at a jewelry counter has implied permission, but walking out of the store wearing it implies unauthorized use and could be grounds for theft charges.

What role does concealment play in proving theft?

Concealment can play a critical role in establishing both control over property and intent to steal, which are necessary elements for theft. Concealing an item often suggests a deliberate effort to hide ownership and may support a presumption of intent to deprive the rightful owner.

  • For example: Concealing merchandise under clothing in a store implies an attempt to take control of the item without payment, often considered sufficient evidence for charging theft.


Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Criminal Law