You never know when you are going to need legal assistance. We’ve all heard of situations where something small and seemingly insignificant snowballed into something that can have massive and life-changing consequences. This applies to legal implications as well, and an ‘honest mistake’ can sometimes lead to a criminal charges and jail time.

A father’s struggle to clear his name

This was almost the case for a father in the Eastern Cape, who landed in legal hot water after being distracted by his child and not paying for an item in his trolley at check-out. As initially reported by The Sunday Times, Akhona Makhalima was in the grocery store with his small son, when he put an energy supplement into his bag instead of the shopping trolley so that his son didn’t see the item and kick up a fuss.

As it turns out, while paying for the groceries in his trolley, Makhalima was distracted by his child and a phone call from his wife, and absentmindedly forgot to remove the energy supplement from his bag. Upon exiting the shop, he was stopped by security guards who found the supplement and didn’t believe that it was an honest mistake on Makhalima’s part. He was then arrested and taken into custody.

Remember, it’s important to know your legal rights. Here’s what you should do if you are arrested.

Makhalima stated his case in the East London Magistrate’s Court, but the Magistrate found that it was his plan to steal the item. He was sentenced to 50 days’ imprisonment and facing the consequences of having a criminal record.

Determined to clear his name, Makhalima appealed to the High Court in Grahamstown, which luckily ruled in his favour and set aside the conviction and sentence. The Judge held the view that: “It is not improbable that a parent will be distracted by a child and will forget to pay for an item. There was no evidence on behalf of the State of the manner in which (Makhalima) put the supplement in the bag or what the child was doing when he did”.

How a small item lead to a big ordeal

In another case, Lucy Moagi from Tzaneen was stopped by a security guard at the exit of a grocery store and subsequently detained for allegedly shoplifting chewing gum. According to TimesLive, Moagi, who bought nearly R700 worth of items, grabbed the gum at the till point and absent-mindedly put it in her handbag along with her cellphone. Despite maintaining that it was an honest mistake and offering to pay for the gum, she was arrested. Eventually, after being detained for many hours and paying R300 bail, she was released. Thankfully, charges against the shopper were dropped.

Some handy tips to help avoid accidental shoplifting

You never know when you are going to have an encounter with the law, or something seemingly small, like a routine trip to the grocery shop can turn into an expensive legal nightmare. Here are some useful tips to help ensure you don’t land in trouble:

  • If you bring your own shopping bags, do not carry it over your shoulder; either hang the bags on the trolley or fold and put it in the trolley.
  • Always grab a basket or trolley. If you just enter the store with the bag you are carrying, you might accidentally put an item in it.
  • Make a shopping list and check that all the items on the list are on the counter before you pay.
  • If you are shopping with a young child, be vigilant about what they grab off a shelf.
  • Using a cellphone while shopping can be distracting and encourages absent-minded behaviour
  • If you are stopped for accidental shoplifting, request to speak to the most senior manager on duty, state your case and pay for the item.

Proving one’s innocence in court, can be a costly affair. One of the many benefits of having legal insurance cover is that it provides access to lawyers when you need legal advice and assistance the most.

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