When Can a Store Owner Detain You for Shoplifting?

February 28, 2022 Criminal Defense, Theft/Property Crimes

Most shoplifting cases do not start with the police detaining and arresting an individual. Usually, a store owner or employee will detain the offender until the police arrive on the scene. To read more about retail theft, visit our blog post here. This may seem like a violation of the offender’s civil liberties, but under Florida’s retail theft statute, it is completely legal and known as the “shopkeeper’s privilege.” There are some key legal issues to examine here, so let’s jump in.

Shopkeeper’s Privilege Defined

The “shopkeeper’s privilege” law is codified in Florida Statute Seciton812.015(3)(a) and states that:

A law enforcement officer, a merchant, a farmer, or a transit agency’s employee or agent, who has probable cause to believe that a retail theft, farm theft, a transit fare evasion, or trespass, or unlawful use or attempted use of any antishoplifting or inventory control device countermeasure, has been committed by a person and, in the case of retail or farm theft, that the property can be recovered by taking the offender into custody may, for the purpose of attempting to effect such recovery or for prosecution, take the offender into custody and detain the offender in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time. In the case of a farmer, taking into custody shall be effectuated only on property owned or leased by the farmer. In the event the merchant, merchant’s employee, farmer, or a transit agency’s employee or agent takes the person into custody, a law enforcement officer shall be called to the scene immediately after the person has been taken into custody.

What constitutes probable cause under the statute? Section (b) has the answer:

The activation of an antishoplifting or inventory control device as a result of a person exiting an establishment or a protected area within an establishment shall constitute reasonable cause for the detention of the person so exiting by the owner or operator of the establishment or by an agent or employee of the owner or operator, provided sufficient notice has been posted to advise the patrons that such a device is being utilized.

How long can they detain me? Section (b) again reveals the rule:

Each such detention shall be made only in a reasonable manner and only for a reasonable period of time sufficient for any inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the activation of the device.

As long as the retailer or employee complies with the guidelines laid out in the statute, they are immune from civil or criminal liability for:

  • False arrest
  • False imprisonment
  • Unlawful detention

Elements of Shopkeeper’s Privilege

If the retailer or their employees see something that reasonably appears to be a violation of Florida’s retail or petit theft laws, they can detain that offender on the premises. The requirements needed to ensure this detention is lawful include:

  • The existence of a reasonable belief that the offender committed a retail theft/petit theft/shoplifting offense.
    • Signs that could form this reasonable belief usually include the activation of anti-theft alarms or tags.
  • Detainment only occurs for a reasonable amount of time needed to investigate the offense.
    • Usually, it should not take the retailer a significant amount of time to determine if a theft has occurred.
  • The detainment conditions are reasonable.
    • This refers to the manner in which the offender is held, the restraints used, the location of detainment, etc.

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney

While retailers can use the shopkeeper’s privilege to detain suspected offenders, specific requirements must be met for this exercise of detainment to be legal. If you or a loved one has been charged with a retail theft/shoplifting/petit theft crime and the retailer detained you, contact an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney today to explore your options. Don Pumphrey and the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have the experience and knowledge needed to fight against theft charges and explore each defense available. Protect your rights and call us today at (850) 681 – 7777 or send an online message to discuss your legal matter during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

Written by Gabi D’Esposito

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