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What you should know about “shopkeeper’s privilege” 

On Behalf of | Jul 7, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

As people of all ages with some extra free time hit the malls and other shopping areas this summer, store managers and employees will likely be extra watchful for shoplifters. Of course, some shoppers are watched more closely than others, whether because they’re young, non-white or just don’t look like they “belong” in a particular store. Anyone who’s ever been followed around a store by an employee as they browse knows what that feels like.

Certainly, some people do indeed shoplift. Others may be the victim of an employee or security guard jumping to conclusions and assuming that they’ve taken an item they had every intention of paying for before they left the store. Maybe their child slipped something into one of their bags completely unbeknownst to them. Maybe their friend decided to shoplift, while they had no idea what was going on.

When can you be detained by store personnel?

What if a store employee detains you because they claim you have shoplifted? Is that legal? Can they require you to stay in a store until the police arrive?

A number of states, including Texas, have laws that deal with what’s often referred to as “shopkeeper’s privilege.” Specifically, Texas’ “Privilege to Investigate Theft” law states that someone who “reasonably believes that another has stolen or is attempting to steal property is privileged to detain that person in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time to investigate the ownership of the property.” 

The law is very short and succinct and doesn’t define “reasonable,” nor does it go into detail about the right to search a person or their belongings as they “investigate” or what rights the person being detained has. If a person’s belongings are taken out of their sight, there is the possibility that merchandise could be placed in them without their knowledge before law enforcement officers arrive.

If you or a loved one is facing theft charges for alleged shoplifting, it’s crucial to seek legal guidance to protect your rights, regardless of how the arrest came about. Based on the circumstances of your detainment and arrest, it may be possible to have some or all of the evidence against you ruled inadmissible.