Maybe you’re shopping. Or you’ve just completed your shopping and are leaving the store. Suddenly, you’re approached by the store manager or a security guard who accuses you of shoplifting.
The embarrassment alone can be unbearable. What you should be more concerned about, however, are the legal repercussions that might befall you if you are convicted of the offense.
Before we discuss what happens when you are faced with an accusation of shoplifting n Texas, it’s important to understand that these kinds of accusations can happen to anyone. Like the famous 52-year-old Mexican telenovela star who was accused of shoplifting in one of the designer stores in San Antonio.
Is she guilty? Innocent? Only time will tell. The point is that you’re not alone, and if you find yourself in a similar situation, it’s important to remain calm and remember that you have rights. Both to be treated a certain way and to fight the shoplifting allegations.
Below, we’re going to explain those rights and detail what you should do if accused.
Under What Conditions Is a Texas Store Justified in Detaining a Suspected Shoplifter?
Store managers and security guards are not allowed to simply go around detaining and harassing shoppers under the pretense of suspected shoplifting. Certain conditions must be met to warrant detention.
First, a witness (who in most cases is an employee of that store) has to establish probable cause. This happens if:
- The witness sees you approach an item, choose it, hide it, and later carry or attempt to carry it out of the store, having not paid for it
- The witness sees you removing or switching price tags and/or item containers
- The witness sees you trying to block the various theft detection devices put in place within the store
- The witness catches you trying to leave or having already left the store with items you haven’t paid for
Unless one of the above things has happened, the store has no right to detain you. They shouldn’t, for instance, detain you simply because someone saw you holding something which may or may not have been from their store.
You Have Been Detained on Suspicions of Shoplifting – What Next?
When a store decides to detain a suspected shoplifter, they are usually acting within a specific and very limited jurisdiction. There are clear guidelines that a store must adhere to when apprehending and detaining shoplifters.
As mentioned above, stores are allowed to stop anyone from leaving the store if there’s probable cause to believe the individual was shoplifting. They also have the right to keep that person under surveillance for the duration of the detention.
However, the store has no right to keep you held up in a small, confined space without letting you leave that space.
Some of the other essential things to know about detention in a store’s loss prevention office include:
- The store can only detain you for a reasonable amount of time, and if the store lacks sufficient incriminating evidence against you, they must also let you go at once
- During detention, a suspected shoplifter has the right not to incriminate him or herself
- Anyone suspected of shoplifting has a right to legal representation
- Anyone being held at a store has the right to request police presence
What Should Texans Do After They’ve Been Detained?
If the store does not have a loss prevention office, you are most likely going to be detained within the store’s security office. Regardless of where they detain you, and whether you are guilty or not, you need to remain calm. As the old maxim goes, cooler heads will prevail.
The store manager or security personnel is likely going to attempt to pressure you into admitting that you are guilty and signing a statement. They may also threaten to call the police if you do not admit that you were shoplifting, and scare you by talking about the serious penalties for shoplifting.
As we said earlier, you are under no obligation to admit anything. You are perfectly within your rights to remain silent and ask for a lawyer. Moreover, while many store security officials may put on a stern face and make all sorts of threats towards you, when all is said and done, most are unwilling to risk filing a case against you unless they’ve got hard evidence to prove that you were shoplifting.
I Got Hit with a Texas Shoplifting Charge – What Do I Do?
First, the bad news. The store personnel weren’t lying when they said penalties were severe here. They are.
That being said, a charge is not a conviction, and there are plenty of arguments a knowledgeable Texas criminal defense attorney can make in your defense. Depending, of course, on the specific details of the situation.
To bring this full circle, remember that Mexican telenovela star we talked about earlier? Well, the local police arrested and charged her with a misdemeanor.
Which seems bad. However, her lawyer was able to prove that there was no probable cause for the star’s arrest. The case against her was dismissed, and all charges dropped.
Obviously, there is no way to guarantee what outcome you will receive, but your best chance at minimizing the damage is to understand your rights and work with an experienced shoplifting lawyer.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. His skill has earned him recognition from the National Trial Lawyers (Top 100 Trial Lawyers) and Avvo (Top Attorney in Criminal Defense, Top Attorney in DUI & DWI, 10/10 Superb Rating), and he is Lead Counsel rated.