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What to Do if a Store Detains You for Shoplifting

While we may think of shoplifting as an occasional problem that only gets addressed on after-school specials, it’s actually much more common than you’d expect. Shoplifting is the most common crime in America, and 75% of offenders are adults. Let’s learn about the steps to take if you find yourself detained by a store for shoplifting.

Can a Store Legally Detain Me?

In many states, including California, store owners are allowed to detain suspected shoplifters. This serves to protect them from allegations of false imprisonment. There are certain criteria that must be met, however, such as probable cause (enough information to reasonably believe a crime was committed). Examples can include a shopper avoiding eye contact with staff, spending a lot of time in corners, and wearing too-large clothing. Detentions without probable cause, for an unreasonably long period or done with excessive force, can erase these protections. Store owners are allowed to hold suspects only as long as it takes law enforcement to arrive, make an arrest or begin questioning. Ideally, the shop owner will have a trained professional, like a loss prevention officer, available when and if it becomes necessary to physically detain the suspect, who may turn aggressive.

Probable cause, in this case, means that the store owner must have reasonable suspicion of shoplifting. If the store has video and audio surveillance, that’s bad news for the shoplifter as that kind of hard evidence can build a much stronger case. Indisputable truth like this is often the difference between petty theft and a more serious criminal charge. Sometimes the suspects are arrested on the spot.

What is Shoplifting?

Shoplifting is defined as “willfully concealing or taking possession of” items for sale in a store, as well as the intention of taking the items away from their rightful owner without paying for them. You might think that you actually have to leave the store to commit shoplifting, but just committing the act, even while inside the store, is breaking the law. Even just rewriting the price tag can be considered shoplifting.

While a recent spike in shoplifting has California lawmakers pushing harsher penalties, currently stealing anything valued under $950 is classified as petty theft, a misdemeanor charge. More than that, and the crime becomes a felony.

What Do I Do if I am Detained for Shoplifting? 

If you are detained, your best bet, of course, is to remain calm and cooperative. You absolutely have the right to remain silent, as you may incriminate yourself by speaking. The store owner must see you perform a suspicious action, and the item must actually leave the shelf. You also have the right to be detained without unreasonable force, which means the store owner or security cannot use any excessive physical means to hold you. You may be genuinely unaware of your specific rights in this situation, and that can also be used to strengthen your case.

If you are arrested, it does not mean you will automatically be charged or serve jail time. You will need an attorney to protect your rights if the shop owner decides to bring charges. With legal representation, you can defend your actions or argue that there is insufficient proof to convict, or negotiate a plea bargain on a first offense.

Whatever the charge, don’t go it alone. The Law Office of Jacqueline Goodman helps clients needing criminal defense in Orange County and beyond. Jacqueline has nearly 30 years of experience and a high reputation with her peers and clients. She and her team will take the time to build a strong defense meant just for you, and they will fight until you get the best outcome possible.
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