Some states have laws that allow businesses to detain customers they suspect of shoplifting. However, you must detain the suspect in a reasonable manner; otherwise, it won't be lawful. Here are three elements you may need to prove that your execution of the shopkeeper's privilege was lawful:
Having probable cause means having a strong and reasonable suspicion that the person you are about to detain has indeed stolen a merchandise in your store. This means that the suspect's actions should be enough to arouse suspicions of shoplifting from any other reasonable person.
Here are the things you need to prove that you had probable cause for detaining a suspect:
- You observed the suspect approaching, selecting, and concealing (carrying away or consuming serves the same purpose) your merchandise.
- Your observation of the suspect was uninterrupted.
- The suspect failed to pay for the product, and you detained him or her near the door or just outside your store.
The second essential element is how long you detained the suspect. This is necessary because the law only allows you to detain shoplifting suspects only for a "reasonable time." This means the duration should be long enough to allow you conduct a preliminary investigation, call the police, and wait for them to arrive.
A common mistake shopkeepers make (especially in cases involving teenage suspects) is to detain a suspect and start punishing him or her. For example, you may be tempted to force him or her to arrange your store or carry out some cleaning duties. Punishing a suspect is not your job, and it doesn't fall under shopkeeper's privilege. Call the police as soon as you confirm that the suspect was indeed stealing from you.
Reasonable Manner or Force
Lastly, you must use the right methods in detaining your suspect. This means your actions for detaining the suspect must just be enough to detain him or her, but nothing more than that. For example, you can close your store's door if the suspect doesn't want to wait for the police of his or her own volition. However, beating or choking a suspect amounts to use of unreasonable force.
You shouldn't be surprised if your suspect accuses you of unlawful detention once the police arrive. Many suspects take this route in a bid to escape their charges or get back at you for detaining them. You may need the help of a criminal defense lawyer, like Jeffrey D. Larson, Attorney at Law, to defend yourself. Fortunately, you have nothing to worry about if you did not break the law.