Understanding your legal rights often makes the difference between civil interactions with law enforcement and you facing severe consequences. A shoplifting conviction can be embarrassing and even worse can mean greater difficulty in getting a job or getting into college. If you are in a retail store and an employee accuses you of shoplifting (the courts call this "retail fraud" now), you have rights they need to respect. Follow our steps below to make sure you take advantage of all the legal protections you have.
Background: Shopkeepers’ Privilege
An employee can detain someone for questioning and to call the authorities if the worker has strong reason to believe the person has shoplifted. The worker will need probable cause to detain you - this usually means watching the shopper on camera or in person, noticing them pick up an item, then take steps toward leaving without paying. The “shopkeepers’ privilege” allows workers to hold suspects for a reasonable amount of time - if violated, the store opens themselves up to litigation.
Step 1: Seek Understanding
We are all human, and mistakes happen. A worker could have mistakenly accused you, or you could have honestly forgotten something at the bottom of your basket. In this case, stay calm, talk it through, and if it was your mistake, be ready to pay for the item. If the employee holds to accusing you, follow the rest of the guide.
Step 2: Right to Remain Silent
Most laws require an employee first to notice you concealing an item or taking another step toward retail fraud (switching price tags, marking items on sale, etc.) before approaching you. Most times, this observation includes noticing you pick up the item. Otherwise, it could have been with you when you came into the store. State your name, but avoid answering other questions.
Step 3: Do Not Give Consent to a Search
Sometimes this process ends when the worker gets their item back; however, by allowing a search, you can end up incriminating yourself. The store could continue the search into your phone or vehicle.
Step 4: Request an Attorney
You do not need to be arrested for you to request an attorney. At any point in the accusation process, you have the right to request the presence and representation of a trained legal advisor to help you get through the situation in the best way possible.
Aldrich Legal Services provides legal assistance to individuals, families, and organizations to ensure their rights have been protected. If you or someone you know has been accused of shoplifting or retail fraud, give our legal team a call at (734) 404-3000. For more information about our team’s experienced criminal defense area, click here.