Sat. Jun 8th, 2024

Can a Store Legally Check Your Bag or Make You Show a Receipt?

The last thing you want to hear while exiting a retailer is the familiar beep of the store anti-theft system. If you’re at a large retailer, you will likely be approached immediately by a greeter to check your receipt. But do you have to comply? We’ve got both the legal and practical answers you’re looking for.

The short answer is no. At most retailers, an employee can’t force you to show them your receipt or allow them to search your bag. 

What Folsom PD said: Sgt. Andrew Bates with the Folsom Police Department  directed us to California Penal code 490.5, which states:

“(f) (1) A merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time for the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner whenever the merchant has probable cause to believe the person to be detained is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant’s premises.”

In short: “To answer your question,” Bates said. “A person would not have to stop unless the merchant had probable cause to believe the person had taken merchandise without paying.”

In certain circumstances, store employees are justified in holding you until the police arrive. Known as the Shopkeeper’s Privilege, the store employee can stop you from leaving if they believe that you shoplifted. In order to hold you, the employee must have probable cause to believe you are a shoplifter. This suspicion must be supported by specific facts. This could be anything from the employee witnessing you pocketing merchandise without paying and then leaving the store.

Whether you paid for your items with cash or a gift card, the potential hassle of complying with a door greeter’s request probably won’t outweigh the hassle of refusing. Sure, you have the right to refuse. But in most cases, flashing your receipt takes a matter of seconds.”

 

 

Is it Legal for Walmart to Check Receipts at the Door?

The short answer is no. At most retailers like Walmart, an employee can’t force you to show them your receipt or allow them to search your bag. And make no mistake: when a greeter is asking to check your receipt, he is actually asking for permission to search your bags or seize your person.

It’s not always a great idea to do something even though you have the right. In certain circumstances, store employees are justified in holding you until the police arrive. Known as the Shopkeeper’s Privilege, the store employee can stop you from leaving if they believe that you shoplifted. What’s more, you could be barred from the premises or lose your membership card if you fail to comply.

Despite that, it is worth knowing your rights in these situations. While there’s nothing stopping a door greeter from asking you to comply, your rights could be violated if they try and forcibly keep you from leaving.

Shopkeeper’s Privilege Explained

While the Shopkeeper’s Privilege gives the store the right to detain suspected shoplifters, it can’t be used with impunity. If the store employee doesn’t have any reason to believe you were shoplifting, it is illegal to restrain you.

The Shopkeeper’s privilege can only be used by a store employee, and it must be done on store grounds. Additionally, you can only be held using the Shopkeeper’s Privilege for a reasonable amount of time. This generally means until the police arrive.

In order to hold you, the employee must have probable cause to believe you are a shoplifter. This suspicion must be supported by specific facts. This could be anything from the employee witnessing you pocketing merchandise without paying and then leaving the store.

The risk of the Shopkeeper’s Privilege is that if an employee stops you without probable cause that you have shoplifted, they may be committing the crime of false imprisonment. And if door greet is randomly stopping you to check your receipt, they won’t have the probable cause necessary for the Shopkeeper’s Privilege. It is within your right to tell them no and go about your business. But is that in your best interest?

Is it Wal-Mart Policy to Check Your Receipt?

Yes, Wal-Mart has said that their policy is to check every receipt when possible. Of course, if you have ever been to Wal-Mart the chances are good that you left without anyone asking for a copy of your receipt. No matter what Wal-Mart officials say their formal policy is, in practice it is fairly uncommon for greeters to check receipts.

In most stores, greeters have the leeway to decide when to ask for a receipt or not. Often, they will only do so for big-ticket items like televisions or electronics. How often this occurs in a Wal-Mart store will largely depend on the attitude of the person tasked with checking those receipts. No matter how often they ask for receipts, greeters are prohibited from going any further than this request unless they have reason to believe a theft has occurred.

Other Consequences You Might Face

If you refuse to show your receipt, there is always the possibility that an untrained Walmart receipt checker tries to detain you anyway. And unless you are spoiling for a fight with some of the world’s largest retailers, the odds are good it won’t be worth your time. But there are other consequences you could face other than being falsely imprisoned, and there is little you can do about them.

First and foremost, stores like Walmart are private property. Sure, you have a right to refuse to show your receipt. But the store has the right to ban you from the premises. What’s more, some retailers like Costco require their cardmembers to comply with receipt checks as a part of the cardmember agreement. Does this mean you’ve waived your legal protection against false imprisonment? No. But if you don’t comply with their rules, you can expect to lose your Costco membership. Also remember: the police could always follow up after you leave. While unlikely, the police can charge you later if they decide a crime occurred. Clearing things up on the front end may work in your favor.

Should you show your receipt?

Still wondering “do I have to show my receipt at Walmart?” It’s probably a good idea. Whether you paid for your items with cash or a gift card, the potential hassle of complying with a door greeter’s request probably won’t outweigh the hassle of refusing. Sure, you have the right to refuse. But in most cases, flashing your receipt takes a matter of seconds.

Know Your Consumer Rights

Although Walmart may claim shopkeepers’ privilege to detain you, the retailer should ensure that they don’t infringe on your rights as a consumer. Some of the rights you can claim are:

  • You can only be detained for a short time – Walmart can only detain a suspected shoplifter for a short time until the police arrive. They should also allow you to leave immediately if they ascertain that you have not committed an offense
  • They cannot use unreasonable force or coercion – a Walmart employee is not allowed to force you to comply with their request. If an employee uses force to detain you, you may claim false imprisonment against the store, which is a civil violation
  • The retailer should present specific facts – Walmart should present specific facts to back their suspicion. Otherwise, they cannot hold you under the shopkeeper’s privilege law

What Happens if You Refuse to Show Your Receipt at Walmart?

There is no law requiring you to show your receipt at Walmart. However, declining to do so may give a Walmart associate / ANY STORE OWNER probable cause to detain you under Shopkeepers’ Privilege law. In some cases, you may also encounter an untrained Walmart employee who may forcibly detain you if you refuse to show your receipt.

Walmart associate / ANY STORE OWNER can also ban you from its premises if you refuse to show your receipt. This is unlike Costco, which requires its members to show their receipts on demand as part of their membership agreement. Since Walmart does not have such provisions, it can only ban you from its store

 


“Shopkeeper’s Privilege” and The Right to Detain in California

 

Under California law, the principle of shopkeeper’s privilege permits shopkeepers (or store owners or merchants) to detain a customer if they have probable cause that the person is guilty of shoplifting (per Penal Code 459.5).

Under the law, though, it is required that a store owner’s detention:

  • be for a reasonable time, and
  • used solely for the purpose of investigating the suspected shoplifting offense.

The shopkeeper’s privilege is authorized under California Penal Code 490.5 PC. This statute states:

“(f) (1) A merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time for the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner whenever the merchant has probable cause to believe the person to be detained is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant’s premises.”

Examples of when a merchant can legally detain a customer include:

  • Mike runs a sports shop and stops a customer after watching him put a mouth guard in his backpack.
  • Nia manages a clothing store and brings a shopper in a back room after he tried to leave the store without paying for a sweater.
  • Jose works at a convenience store and restrains a person that put a pack of gum in his pocket.

Please note that a shopkeeper can use force to detain a customer, provided that it is:

  • reasonable, and
  • non-deadly.

During a lawful detention, a merchant can:

  • examine any items a person tried to take, and
  • conduct a search.

The shopkeeper’s privilege is a valid legal defense to the crime of false imprisonment, charged under Penal Code 236. False imprisonment is a wobbler offense under California law. This means it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Please note that the shopkeeper’s privilege is not the same as a citizen’s arrest (as authorized by Penal Code 837). The latter is an arrest made by a citizen who has no official arrest authority because he is not a law enforcement personnel or a governmental agent.

1. What is the shopkeeper’s privilege?

Under California law, the “shopkeeper’s privilege law” says that shopkeepers, or store owners or merchants, may detain a customer if they have probable cause / reasonable grounds to believe that the shopper is guilty of shoplifting (per Penal Code 459.5).1

Note though that this detention:

  • must be for a reasonable amount of time, and
  • is solely for the purpose of investigating the possible shoplifting crime.2

Whether or not a detainment is “reasonable” or for a reasonable period of time is a determination a judge makes based on all of the facts of a given case.3

Under Penal Code 490.5 PC, a shop owner or merchant is:

  • an owner or operator, or
  • the agent, employee, or officer of an owner or operator

of any store used for the purchase or sale of any personal property capable of manual delivery.4

2. Can a merchant use force in detaining a customer?

An owner has the legal right to use force in detaining an alleged shoplifter. The shopkeeper’s privilege allows a store owner to use a reasonable amount of nondeadly force on the detainee that is necessary to:

  1. protect himself, and
  2. prevent the escape from store property of the particular person being detained.5

Whether or not the amount of force used is “reasonable” is a determination a judge makes based on all of the facts of a given case.6

3. What may a store owner do in a detention?

A store owner can do two things in a shopkeeper detention. These are:

  1. examine the items he suspects are stolen, and/or
  2. conduct a search.

3.1. Examine items

During a detention, a merchant may examine any items that:

  1. he has probable cause to believe were unlawfully taken, and
  2. are in plain view.7

An owner is authorized to examine the items to determine who legally owns them.8

3.2. Conduct a search

Once detained, a merchant can ask a suspected shoplifter to hand over the item(s) he believes the shopper tried to steal.9

If the shopper refuses, the owner can conduct a limited and reasonable search in order to recover the items in question.10 But, the merchant cannot search the clothing of the person being detained.11 He can only search that person’s:

  • packages,
  • shopping bags,
  • handbags, or
  • any other property in his immediate possession.12

Merchants do not need a search warrant since they are not peace officers. They are private citizens. But if merchants find stolen items, they can then call a law enforcement agency to come to the store to issue a citation or conduct an arrest.

4. What is shoplifting, per Penal Code 459.5?

In Penal Code 495.5, California law defines “shoplifting” as entering an open business, with the intent to steal merchandise worth $950 or less.13

In other words, shoplifting is entering an open business intending to commit the crime of petty theft.

The crime of shoplifting was created by the voter initiative Proposition 47 in 2014. Prior to the passage of Prop 47, the behavior that is now defined as shoplifting could have been charged instead as Penal Code 459 PC burglary.

For most defendants, shoplifting is charged as a misdemeanor. The potential penalties a California court can impose are:

  • up to six months in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.14

5. Is shopkeeper’s privilege a defense to false imprisonment?

The shopkeeper’s privilege is a valid legal defense to the crime of false imprisonment.15

Penal Code 236 PC is the California statute that defines the crime of false imprisonment. Under this code section, false imprisonment is “the unlawful violation of the personal liberty of another.”16

The commission of the crime means that one person restrains, detains, or confines another person without his/her consent. The crime can be committed with or without force or violence.

California Penal Code 237 is the State’s statute that sets forth the penalties for false imprisonment. Under this section, false imprisonment is a type of wobbler offense, meaning that it can be punished as either a California misdemeanor or a felony. You can find out more information on the differences between a felony and a misdemeanor here.

If a misdemeanor, false imprisonment is punishable by:

  • a maximum fine of $1,000, and/or
  • a maximum jail term of one year.17

If a felony, a judge can sentence a guilty party to a county jail term of:

  • 16 months,
  • two years, or
  • three years.18

6. Are there other defenses to false imprisonment?

There are three other common defenses to accusations of false imprisonment. These are:

  1. an accused had the legal authority to restrain a person (e.g., the defendant was acting in his capacity as a police officer), so therefore the accused committed no criminal activity,
  2. the alleged “victim” consented to the restraint or the detention, and
  3. the defendant acted out of self-defense. (Note that a deadly weapon should not be used in self-defense unless it is in reasonable and proportional force to the aggressor.)

Another defense is that the police committed misconduct, such as coercing a confession of tampering with evidence. In these cases, the defense can ask the judge to disregard any evidence found through illegal means.

In any case, the district attorney has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If prosecutors lack sufficient evidence, then the criminal case should be dropped.

7. Is the shopkeeper’s privilege the same as a citizen’s arrest?

The privilege is not the same as a California citizen’s arrest.

A citizen’s arrest is an arrest made by a citizen who has no official arrest authority because he is not a law enforcement officer, police department, or a governmental agent.19

Penal Code 837 PC is the California statute that authorizes a citizen’s arrest in certain circumstances. These include when a perpetrator:

  • commits a misdemeanor in a citizen’s presence, and/or
  • commits a felony and a citizen has reasonable cause for believing the perpetrator committed it.20

Legal References:

  1. California Penal Code 490.5f1 PC. This code section states: “(f) (1) A merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time for the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner whenever the merchant has probable cause to believe the person to be detained is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant’s premises.” See also Collyer v. S.H. Kress Co. (1936) 5 Cal.2d 175People of the State of California v. Zelinski (California Supreme Court, 1979), 24 Cal. 3d 357, 594 P.2d 1000People v. Carter (Court of Appeals, 1981), 117 Cal. App. 3d 735.
  2. California Penal Code 490.5 PC.
  3. Fermino v. Fedco, Inc. (1994) 7 Cal.4th 701.
  4. California Penal Code 490.5g2 PC.
  5. California Penal Code 490.5f2 PC.
  6. Fermino v. Fedco, supra.
  7. California Penal Code 490.5f2 PC.
  8. See same.
  9. California Penal Code 490.5f4 PC.
  10. See same.
  11. See same.
  12. See same. Note that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution – as well as Article 1 of the California Constitution – protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures from law enforcement, not non-police. Unless a “warrant exception” applies, police in the United States need an arrest warrant to make an arrest or a search warrant from a superior court / trial court judge to conduct a search as part of a criminal investigation. The warrant affidavit by the officer (affiant) is made under penalty of perjury. To be issued by order of the court, warrants must detail the places and items to be searched with reasonable particularity, and they must indicate the factual basis for the search. Search warrants usually must be executed within a limited time frame, usually a 10 day period; a search warrant may only be executed between 7AM and 10PM unless the judge finds good cause to execute it at any time of the day. (Also see Evidence Code 1560 re. business records and related paraphernalia and PC 1524.3 re. service providers.)
  13. California Penal Code 495.5 PC.
  14. See same.
  15. Fermino v. Fedco, Inc., supra.
  16. California Penal Code 236 PC.
  17. California Penal Code 237 PC.
  18. See same.
  19. California Penal Code section 837 PC.
  20. See same.

 

 


Shopkeeper’s privilege

Shopkeeper’s privilege is a law recognized in the United States under which a shopkeeper is allowed to detain a suspected shoplifter on store property for a reasonable period of time, so long as the shopkeeper has cause to believe that the person detained in fact committed, or attempted to commit, theft of store property.[1]

Limits

The privilege to detain, although recognized in many jurisdictions, is not as broad as a police officer’s privilege to arrest.[2] If the shopkeepers exceed the bounds of this privilege and make an arrest, the lawfulness of their action will be determined by the jurisdiction’s rules governing arrest by a private citizen. The shopkeepers’ privilege is for the purpose of investigation only; if, after reasonable detention and investigation, the shopkeepers mistakenly conclude that the suspects are guilty and have them arrested, the shopkeepers may become liable for these acts just as they would have been had they committed the acts without undertaking a prior detention and investigation.[3] Statutes in many states have modified and in some cases broadened the common law privilege,[4] for example, by expressly permitting detention of the suspect until the police arrive.[5] In other cases, case precedent has provided shopkeepers with similar tools.[6] The practical effect of these extensions is to give the shopkeeper the same privilege as a police officer to make an arrest on reasonable grounds.[7]

Rationale

This privilege has been justified by the practical need for some degree of protection for shopkeepers in their dealings with suspected shoplifters. Absent such privilege, a shopkeeper would be faced with the dilemma of either allowing suspects to leave without challenge or acting upon his/her suspicion and risking a false arrest.[8]

The privilege for the most part is to be able to return the stolen goods by determining ownership. The shopkeeper may not force a confession. The shopkeeper’s privilege does not include the power of search.[9] Some courts, however, have expanded this original common law privilege to also include the detention of criminal trespassers: “[t]he detention and removal of a criminal trespasser is an essential power of any shopkeeper or other property owner[.]”[10]

Requisite conditions

In seeking to avail themself of the shopkeeper’s privilege, the proprietor or agent thereof must ensure:

  1. The investigation is conducted near or on the premises; the detention itself should be effected either on the store premises or in the immediate vicinity thereof. The privilege likely would not apply to after-the-fact questioning of a suspected thief who had left the store’s property. While the common law does permit the owner of goods acting on fresh pursuit to use reasonable force to recapture his or her goods from one who actually took them wrongfully, in doing so the property owner acts at his or her own peril.[11] Moreover, the investigation must be to determine ownership of the property, not to force a confession.[12]
  2. The shopkeeper has reasonable grounds to suspect the particular person detained is shoplifting.
  3. Only reasonable, nondeadly force is used to effect the detention. Such force being justified when the suspect is in immediate flight or violently resists detention.[8]
  4. The detention itself lasts only the time necessary to make a reasonable investigation of the facts. Fifteen minutes may be too long where all that is necessary is to ask the cashier whether the detainee has paid.[8]

In cases where a shopkeeper fails to satisfy the aforementioned requisite conditions, he or she loses the privilege and may face liability under local criminal statutes and civil torts.[4] However, so long as these conditions are established, the shopkeeper is immune from liability for false arrest, battery, etc., even when it is discovered after the investigation that the person detained was innocent of any wrongdoing.[13]

Statutory analogs

The common law shopkeeper’s privilege has been superseded in most states by so-called shoplifting statutes, or merchant’s statutes, that allow merchants, their employees, and their agents to detain suspected shoplifters for: the investigation of merchandise or property ownership, the recovery of unpurchased merchandise or property, and the summoning of a police officer.[14]

See also

References

  1. ^ See § 22, at 142, Prosser, William Lloyd (1984). Prosser and Keeton on the law of torts (5 ed.). West Publishing Co. ISBN 0314748806. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  2. ^ Cervantez v. J.C. Penney Co., 595 P.2d 975, 982 & n.5 (Cal. 1979)”Google Scholar. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  3. ^ “The Protection and Recapture of Merchandise from Shoplifters”Northwestern University Law Review47: 90. 1952. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  4. Jump up to:a b Larson, Aaron (12 August 2017). “False Imprisonment and Unlawful Detention”ExpertLaw. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  5. ^ Jacques v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 285 N.E.2d 871, 876 (N.Y. 1972)”Google Scholar. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  6. ^ Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Resendez, 962 S.W.2d 539 (Sup. Ct., Tex., 1998)”Google Scholar. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  7. ^ People v. Jones, 393 N.E.2d 443, 445 (N.Y. 1979)”Google Scholar. Retrieved 6 November 2017.State v. Hughes, 598 N.E.2d 916, 918 (Ohio C.P. 1992)”Google Scholar. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  8. Jump up to:a b c See § 120A Restatement (second) of Torts. American Law Institute. 1965. ISBN 0314012710. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  9. ^ William L. Prosser, Proceedings of the 34th Annual Meeting of The American Law Institute, 1957 A.L.I. PROC. 283 (remarks of Mr. William L. Prosser, Reporter)
  10. ^ Durante v. Fairlane Town Ctr., No. 05-1113, 201 F. App’x 338, 342 (6th Cir. Oct. 18, 2006) (unpublished)” (PDF)United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  11. ^ See § 101, 103, Restatement (second) of Torts. American Law Institute. 1965. ISBN 0314012710. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  12. ^ Moffatt v. Buffums’, Inc., 69 P.2d 424 (Cal. Dist. Ct. App. 1937)”Google Scholar. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  13. ^ Christman, Steven M.; Mark, Jillian M. (19 May 2014). “Guidelines on Dealing With Suspected Shoplifters”New York Law Journal. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  14. ^ Robert A. Brazener, Annotation, Construction and Effect, in False Imprisonment Action, of Statute Providing for Detention of Suspected Shoplifters, 47 A.L.R. 3d 998 (1973)

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