What is Florida’s “Shopkeeper’s Privilege” in Theft Cases?
Many shoplifting cases don’t start with a police encounter and arrest, but rather when a person is detained by the owner of the store where the alleged crime occurred. Such a scenario may seem to violate the individual’s civil rights, running counter to the assumption that only qualified law enforcement officers can make arrests. However, it’s entirely legal under Florida’s statute on retail theft, through a criminal law concept that’s known as the “shopkeeper’s privilege.” The key is whether the store owner strictly complies with the statute, since an improper detention may lead to dismissal of the case.
If you were arrested and have questions about the application of the shopkeeper’s privilege, it’s important to discuss your rights with a Florida shoplifting attorney. Plus, since a conviction for retail theft carries harsh punishment, some background information may be useful.
Acts that may Constitute Retail Theft: Many people envision shoplifting as tucking a product into a coat or pocket, and it’s true that these acts are against the law. Still, Florida law includes the following in the definition of retail theft:
- Changing labelling or tags to reflect a lower price;
- Moving items into a bin with lower-cost products;
- Removing a shopping cart from the store premises; and,
- Any other carrying away or taking merchandise with the intent to deprive the store of the full retail value.
As with other Florida theft crimes, the punishment for a retail theft offense depends upon the value of the item. You could face misdemeanor charges for merchandise at $300 or less, with potential jail time and fines ranging from $500-$1,000. For items valued at more than $300, you could be arrested for a Third Degree Felony. Penalties include up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Application of the Shopkeeper’s Privilege: If store owners and/or employees observe conduct that seems to violate Florida’s shoplifting law, they may detail that individual on the premises. The requirements for a lawful detention are:
- There must be a reasonable belief that the person committed a theft offense. You should note that activation of an anti-theft device or tag when someone leaves the store is considered to be reasonable belief of a crime.
- Shopkeepers can only detain someone for a reasonable amount of time for a shoplifting investigation. Under most circumstances, it shouldn’t take the shopkeeper an extended period of time to determine whether a crime occurred.
- The conditions of the detention must be reasonable. This provision refers to where the individual is held, whether the store owner uses any form of restraint, and related factors.
Talk to a Florida Theft Crimes Lawyer About Your Defense Options
The shopkeeper’s privilege does allow detention, but there’s a very fine line when the owner of the store oversteps the specific boundaries designated by law. You may have a defense based upon this point, and there are many other strategies for fighting shoplifting charges. An attorney can assist with your case, so please contact Fort Lauderdale theft lawyer Kevin J. Kulik to set up a consultation regarding your case. We’re happy to meet with at our office to explore potential defense options.