The following is a guest article and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Miller law Group, PLLC.
Shoplifting is a crime and can be dealt with severely in Texas. Shoplifting is the theft or stealing of merchandise from a store. The definition of the crime in Texas requires that the person intend to permanently deprive or take the merchandise from the owner of the store without paying the value for the item.
This can be done in any number of ways, including price tag switching, concealing an item, being a lookout for another shoplifter, refund fraud, or if you have a friend operating the cash register undercharge you for the item.
Does The Owner Of The Store Have The Right To Detain Me For Shoplifting?
The answer is yes but there are restrictions on the detainment. It is generally known as the shopkeeper’s or merchant’s privilege, which allows the owner to take reasonable measures in investigating someone that is suspected of shoplifting. The owner of the store is allowed to physically detain someone suspected of shoplifting.
The shopkeeper’s privilege is allowed to shield business owners from potential lawsuits for false arrest, false imprisonment, use of force, assault or malicious prosecution if their suspicions turn out to be incorrect.
In general, the courts use a “reasonable person” standard to determine the behavior of the shopkeeper under the circumstances. If there is a reasonable belief that an item was stolen then the owner is given the ‘privilege’ of making reasonable investigations and may detain the suspect for a reasonable time until the police get involved or the matter has been resolved.
The owner must follow proper procedures in detaining an individual that is suspected of shoplifting. In order for a store owner to avoid potential liability when detaining a person, the owner should generally have witnessed the act by way of security camera, or hears from an employee who gives a first hand account or other witnesses that can verify that the shoplifting happened. For probable cause to be established the owner must establish the following:
- That the suspect concealed or carried away an item
- The owner or a witness observed the suspect’s behavior for a prolonged period.
- It was witnessed that the suspect exited without paying for the merchandise.
If the shop owner observes the actions listed above he/she is authorized to stop the shoplifter inside or near the store. The owner is also allowed to use reasonable non-deadly force to stop the suspect within or just outside the store. The detainment can last for a reasonable period of time in order to carry out an investigation. It is important to note that a store owner cannot arrest an individual and may only detain them. Owners are not allowed to force a confessions or perform searches that violate privacy laws.
What Should I Do If I Am Being Suspected Of Shoplifting?
If you are being accused of shoplifting you have the right to call for help; usually you can request an attorney or ask that the police carry out their own investigation. Remember that once the police arrive they will investigate and most likely ask you questions which you are not required to answer.
At this point you should request to have an attorney present and exercise your constitutional right to remain silent. Contact a Texas criminal defense attorney who can help defend you and protect your rights. An attorney will be able to review the evidence against you and determine whether the prosecutor can prove their case or whether the charges should be dismissed.