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The Rights of Alleged Shoplifters Detained in CA

Posted on in Criminal Defense

San Jose petty theft shoplifting defense attorney, shoplifting, shoplifting cases, shoplifting conviction, lawfully detainedThere are times when shoplifting is considered a relatively minor offense—for example, when a teenager steals a tube of lipstick from the mall. However, under other circumstances shoplifting can constitute a serious offense—a woman slips an expensive diamond engagement ring into her purse while browsing at a fancy jewelry store. Still, it is important to be aware that those who are suspected of shoplifting in California can be detained regardless of the dollar amount of the merchandise that they allegedly tried to steal.

Yet under what circumstances can a suspected shoplifter in California be lawfully detained? Moreover, what rights does an alleged shoplifter possess after being detained?

These questions have been answered below in accordance with California law but please be aware that each shoplifting case is unique and that any case specific questions should be directed towards a local petty theft shoplifting defense attorney.

When Can a CA Shoplifter Be Lawfully Detained?

In most shoplifting cases, the alleged shoplifter is confronted and detained by the store’s personnel after someone witnesses the alleged offender attempting to conceal merchandise on his or her person or a theft h alarm sounds when the individual attempted to leave. But are there limits to a store clerk or a security guard’s legal right to detain an individual whom he or she suspects of shoplifting? 

Under section 490.5(f) of the California criminal code, a merchant in California may only detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable period of time in order to conduct a reasonable investigation into the matter, provided that the merchant has probable cause to believe that the individual attempted to unlawfully take, or successfully took, goods from the premises. Additionally, the merchant may only use a reasonable amount of non-deadly force as is necessary to stop the alleged shoplifter from escaping or to prevent the loss of property. The merchant may also use reasonable force to protect himself or herself if necessary.

What Are the Rights of an Individual Detained for Shoplifting?

While merchants in California do have the right to detain any customer whom they have probable cause to believe stole or attempted to steal merchandise, a detained individual is certainly not without rights. For example, a detained suspected shoplifter has the right to remain silent. In other words, he or she has no legal obligation to answer any of the merchant’s questions and he or she is certainly under no obligation to admit any wrongdoing.

Additionally, alleged shoplifters can refuse to have his or her person searched by the merchant; however, it is important to note that code section 490.5(f)(4) of the California criminal code does allow a merchant who has lawfully detained a suspected shoplifter to conduct a limited and reasonable search of packages, shopping bags, handbags, or other property that is in the immediate possession of the detained person if the detained individual refuses to surrender the alleged shoplifted item(s).

Need Legal Advice?

If you have been charged with a theft crime in Northern California, contact the experienced San Jose petty theft shoplifting defense attorneys of Jachimowicz Law Group. Our criminal defense attorneys have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients throughout the Bay Area and would be happy to put our skill to work for you.








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