What is Shopkeeper’s Privilege?

Business owners have a lot on their plate. They have to manage the various elements of their store to keep it profitable. They also deal with hundreds, maybe even thousands of customers on a daily basis. When handling customer transactions, store owners, managers and employees are bound by the law. This can cause them to be in a difficult situation when they see a customer doing something unethical or illegal, such as shoplifting.

What happens when a shop owner sees a customer attempting to steal an item from their store? What can they legally do to prevent the theft from occurring? Store owners are protected by a law called shopkeeper’s privilege. This law is available in Maryland and other states to allow a store owner to detain an alleged shoplifter for a period of time. This allows a shopkeeper to investigate an alleged shoplifting. It also gives the store owner a way out of a helpless position and allows some authority to act on their suspicions, even if they end up being wrong.

This generally means that the shoplifter cannot claim false imprisonment and file charges against the store owner. However, the store owner must understand how shopkeeper’s privilege works or they can be accused of misconduct or abuse.

How is Shopkeeper’s Privilege Used?

While shopkeeper’s privilege gives a store owner some liberties, they cannot abuse them. They must follow the law when detaining a person. Here are some things they must keep in mind.

A shopkeeper will not be subject to false imprisonment if the following actions are taken:

  • There is probable cause to suspect that the person shoplifted.
  • The suspect is detained for a reasonable amount of time.
  • The suspect is reasonably detained.

Probable cause requires evidence, such as a store owner watching the suspect steal the item. A suspicion is not enough. A reasonable length of time would be until police arrive. A suspect cannot be detained for hours.

Also, the suspect can only be detained on the premises. A store owner cannot chase a suspect around town and attempt to detain them. In addition, the shopkeeper cannot use force to detain the person. The only exception is if the suspect is using force and trying to harm the shopkeeper.

Only police can arrest the suspect. The shopkeeper must find a way to keep the suspect on the premises without force or arrest. Arrest by a private citizen is against the law.

Contact a Maryland Criminal Defense Lawyer Today

While shopkeepers do have rights under Maryland law, you also have rights as someone who has been accused of shoplifting. Make sure you seek legal help so you can protect those rights. You can avoid a criminal record with the right assistance.

If you are facing shoplifting or other theft charges, you need a solid defense. While these charges may seem minor, they could affect you in many ways. The Columbia theft lawyers at The Law Offices of Todd K. Mohink, P.A. can assess your case. We have two offices in Maryland to serve you.

Schedule a free consultation today by calling (410) 774-5987 or filling out the online form.


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