To help prevent theft, retail stores often employ security guards to investigate potential shoplifting cases. These security guards may be in uniform or in plain clothes.
A security guard has the general authority to detain someone if there is probable cause that shoplifting has occurred. However, this authority has some limitations. Any time a security guard stops a shopper, it must be for a reasonable time, and must be done in a reasonable manner.
"Probable cause" means that a security guard has reason to suspect that shoplifting has occurred. This normally means that he or she observes an individual approach merchandise, select the merchandise, conceal or carry away the merchandise, and leave the store. If there is probable cause, the guard may detain the suspected individual.
Detention of any shopper must be done in a reasonable manner. What is reasonable depends on the circumstances, but usually includes:
A security guard can never use excessive force. Excessive force can include, but is not limited to, appliation of pain, choking, or improper handcuff use. Foul language, discrimanatory slurs, and verbal threats can also be considered excessive force.
A suspected shoplifter may only be detained for a reasonable time. This usually means enough time for the security guard to conduct a reasonable investigation of what has occurred and for the police to arrive. If police are contacted promptly, but take a long time to arrive at the location, the time of detention will still be reasonable. However, if the store security guard delays in contacting police without any legitimate purpose, this will usually be considered unreasonable.
No. The Miranda rule requires that police officers inform a suspect in their custody of certain constitutional rights before questioning that suspect. As a consequence, self incriminating statements a suspect makes to police without being informed of their Miranda rights are not admissible in court. However, the Miranda rule applies only to law enforcement officials, and not to private security guards. Therefore, any self incriminating statement made voluntarily to a store security guard can be admitted in court agaist the person who says them.
Unreasonable detention by a store security guard may create valid claims of false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, excessive use of force, or assault. You may have the right to sue the store for damages you have incurred as a result of the detention.
If you have been detained by a store security guard and believe the detention was unreasonable, you may want to seek the advice of a lawyer who can explain what kinds of legal claims may be available to compensate you for the unfair treatment you have received.
Last Modified: 11-19-2017 11:20 PM PSTLaw Library Disclaimer
We've helped more than 4 million clients find the right lawyer – for free. Present your case online in minutes. LegalMatch matches you to pre-screened lawyers in your city or county based on the specifics of your case. Within 24 hours experienced local lawyers review it and evaluate if you have a solid case. If so, attorneys respond with an offer to represent you that includes a full attorney profile with details on their fee structure, background, and ratings by other LegalMatch users so you can decide if they're the right lawyer for you.