What To Do When You Are Falsely Accused Of Shoplifting

Posted on: 15 November 2015


It's a scary feeling when you are out shopping, and suddenly a security guard escorts you to a back room over suspicion of shoplifting. You know you have done no wrong, but the store owner thinks you are guilty. A false arrest violates your 4th amendment rights. If you think you have been wrongfully been accused of shoplifting, here are some tips on handling falsely being accused of shoplifting.

Dealing with the Shopkeeper, Guards, and Law Enforcement

  • Stay calm, and cooperate with the shopkeeper when they ask you show them the items. Count to 10 before you open your mouth.
  • Never try to resist arrest or get physical with arresting officers. Don't sign any papers from the shopkeeper, because they are wanting you to admit guilt.
  • Don't admit anything to the security guards who could try to intimidate you into confessing. Don't plead guilty or no contest, because if the court finds you innocent, an admission could cause your case to be dismissed, prohibiting you to sue.
  • Follow any order to stay off the premises.

Other Considerations

  • In some states, you could be charged for being a distraction.
  • Shoplifting may also include swapping price tags.
  • Statutes of limitation usually apply, which gives you a certain time period to sue.

Determining if You Have a Case

There are several factors that determine if you have a case:

  • Probable Cause. Does the shop owner have probable cause? The shop owner needs probable cause to have you arrested for shoplifting. The owner, an employee, or other witness must see you taking something from the store and conceal it, not pay for it, and it cannot be just an item they saw you holding in your hand. In most municipalities, you cannot be apprehended by security until you are in the parking lot, or pass the cash register. The shopkeeper must also maintain constant observation of you. 
  • Length of Detainment. Did the shopkeeper hold you past a reasonable amount of time? Shopkeeper's Privilege gives a store the right to detain you for a reasonable time period with probable cause, but it can only be long enough to investigate. If they held you even for an hour after investigating, they surpassed the reasonable limit.
  • Restricting Freedom. Did the storekeeper or guard restrict your movement or use excessive force? Restricting movement includes putting you in handcuffs or locking you in another room.

You have a right to be treated fairly when you are accused of shoplifting. If you think you have been treated unfairly, or you have been arrested, contact a criminal lawyer like one from Begley Carlin & Mandio LLP to discuss your case.