Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Shoplifters: What Are Your Legal Rights?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. | Last updated on

If you run a business that is open to the public, one of your main concerns may be shoplifting, which costs retailers millions of dollars in lost revenue every year.

While detaining a suspected shoplifter can open you up to legal liability, you are not without recourse.

Your actions may actually be covered by the shopkeeper's privilege.

Generally speaking, when a person is wrongfully detained by a private individual, that individual may be liable for the tort of false imprisonment.

However, many states, either via statute or common law, recognize an exception, which is commonly known as the "shopkeeper's privilege."

If you suspect that a patron has shoplifted or is attempting to shoplift, the privilege will protect you from legal liability for false imprisonment if:

  1. There is probable cause to suspect shoplifting;
  2. The suspect is detained for a reasonable amount of time; and
  3. The suspect is detained in a reasonable manner.

Probable cause in this manner requires specific evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that shoplifting has occurred or is attempted. A suspicion alone will not suffice.

As for a reasonable length of time, the shopkeeper's privilege only permits you to detain a suspected shoplifter for a short period. You can usually detain a person until police arrive or as long as reasonably necessary to check for concealed property.

With respect to how you detain a person, the key is to use as little force as possible. Excessive force or coercion will almost always open you up to liability.

Related Resources:

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard