Being accused of shoplifting can be a stressful experience. Security personnel may threaten you with criminal allegations, police action, or ask you to pay restitution. However, depending on the circumstances of the situation, their actions may not be entirely lawful.
If you have been accused of shoplifting in Texas, it is important to recognize that you have rights that protect you.
Texas Shoplifting Laws
The act of shoplifting in Texas falls under the definition of “theft” in the Texas Penal Code. In layman’s terms, theft is defined as the act of taking another person’s property with the intention of depriving the owner of that piece of property.
Depending on the value of the stolen items, penalties for the act of shoplifting range from a fine of $500 to a fine of up to $10,000 dollars and up to 99 years’ of imprisonment. With such a broad range of penalties, familiarizing yourself with the different classifications of theft is useful in determining the possible litigation that may be brought upon you.
A person can also be charged as an accomplice to a shoplifter in the state of Texas. This includes acting as a lookout for the shoplifter or creating distractions. Swapping price tags on items also falls under an act of shoplifting.
The Legality of Searches and Detainment in Texas
There is a legal concept in place called “Shopkeeper’s Privilege” that allows store owners and security guards to search and detain individuals. However, the shopkeeper and their agents have a legal responsibility to ensure that their suspicions are reasonable, or else they may be liable for false imprisonment. This means that the shopkeeper or their agents must have physically witnessed the act of theft taking place in order to detain someone.
Additionally, although shopkeepers are legally allowed to conduct searches if they have probable cause, the manner in which the search is conducted must be reasonable under the circumstances. Shopkeepers and their agents may also be liable for assault and battery if their search involved excessive force.
The duration of the detainment must also be reasonable. Generally speaking, shopkeepers and security can only detain an individual until police arrive. They cannot detain individuals for hours on end, and doing so may make a shopkeeper liable for any civil claims that ensue.
Texas Shoppers – Know Your Rights
If you are accused and detained for shoplifting, your immediate actions are important in determining the outcome of the situation. Knowing your rights can help you make better-informed decisions.
Here are some things you should keep in mind:
You have the right to remain silent.
Individuals accused of shoplifting may feel pressured into volunteering information. Since security personnel are in positions of authority, it may seem natural to cooperate and listen to their requests. However, you have the legal right to remain silent.
You have the right to legal counsel.
It is important to protect yourself by requesting a Texas criminal lawyer as soon as possible. Defense attorneys are trained to recognize any unlawful requests or infringement upon your rights.
You are not obligated to make a statement.
You may be asked to make a statement, describe your actions, or sign documents. Understand that you are not obligated to comply with any of these requests without legal counsel. Instead, you should wait for your attorney to arrive before you say anything to anyone.
The bottom line is that the average person lacks an in-depth understanding of criminal law. Storeowners and security personnel will often prey on this fact in order to solicit incriminating information from individuals suspected of shoplifting. If you are accused of shoplifting in Texas, regardless of whether or not you’re innocent, it is important to safeguard yourself by knowing your rights.
About the Author:
Brandon Fulgham has an in-depth understanding of both Texas law and Texans themselves. Before practicing law here, he received his undergraduate degree from TCU, and his law degree from South Texas College of Law in Houston. After graduation, he worked in District Attorneys’ offices as a prosecutor, building cases designed to put people behind bars. Now, he uses that knowledge to protect the rights of people in and around Fort Worth, making sure they receive the strongest possible defense when they find themselves on the wrong side of the law. He has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, Fort Worth Magazine, and others.