Being accused of shoplifting can be all kinds of things: embarrassing, scary, frustrating, insulting, confusing. No matter what you feel, though, you absolutely need to take the situation seriously.
Why? Because in the state of Texas, charges can carry hefty fines and jail time depending on the specific circumstances.
This may be difficult, but the most important thing anyone can do in this situation is to remain calm and remember their rights.
This post outlines some of those rights and offers examples of what you can do if you suddenly find yourself accused.
Defining “Shoplifting” in Texas
Shoplifting in our state falls under the broader category of “theft.” According to Texas Penal Code, theft is defined as taking property unlawfully – that is, without the owner’s consent, and with the intent of depriving the owner of that property.
There are a number of ways that someone can potentially commit shoplifting, or retail theft. One common scenario is taking items from a store without paying. However, it is important to understand other actions that qualify as shoplifting as well, such as altering price tags to avoid full retail price or writing bad checks for merchandise.
If you’ve been accused of retail theft, but are unsure whether your actions really fall under the definition, an experienced Texas criminal defense lawyer will be able to help.
One of the most important things to know is what rights you have if accused – and what the rules are for how stores and store security can approach you and interact with you.
Knowing Retailers’ Rights in Texas
Understanding the rights of the retailer accusing you of stealing is a good way to keep a level head.
If these things happen during the course of the accusation, regardless of your innocence or guilt, you can remind yourself that they are simply attempting to exercise their rights:
- An employee or store security guard questions you.
- They detain you and call the police.
- They tell you not to come back to the store again.
If stolen property is found on your person, the retailer has the right to bring shoplifting charges against you. In this case, the police may give you a citation or arrest you.
Next, we’ll talk about how you can properly exercise your rights.
Responding to Shoplifting Accusations in Texas
First – and this is important enough to repeat – remain calm.
Often, our first inclination is to argue. Don’t. Instead, repeat to yourself, “They are just trying to do their job.”
If a security person or employee has made a mistake – show them your receipt. If they still insist you have stolen merchandise and want to keep you to sort things out, don’t resist.
- You have the right to see their proof. This may be security camera footage, or they may tell you they have a witness.
- You have the right to remain silent. You are under zero obligation to provide personal information or explain yourself to anyone, sign any documents, or pay any money at the time of being accused, even if the police become involved. (Note that you do have to identify yourself to the police, but that is the extent of your obligation.)
- You have the right to legal representation at any time during this process. One way to avoid seeming uncooperative by remaining silent when employees, security, and/or police ask you a question is to continue repeating (calmly) that you’d like legal representation before continuing.
Once you are out of the situation, if you feel your rights have been violated, talk to your professional legal counsel and detail specifics. They will be able to advise you on how to file complaints and discuss how you may be able to fight back against your charges. There is even a possibility you will be able to sue for false arrest or false imprisonment.
Additional Information on Proper Procedures in Texas Shoplifting Cases
Although retailers are allowed to detain you with probable cause, they are not allowed to keep you confined in a small room without letting you out. If you’re feeling like you want to leave the room, calmly remind them of your rights and request to leave.
Also important, if a manager has asked you never to return to the store, heed this warning. Being caught on the premises again is criminal trespassing. Those kinds of charges can quickly escalate misdemeanors to felonies, increase fines and jail time, and in general lead to bigger issues fast.
Important to note: when stolen property values less than $100, you may face a citation with an order to appear in court later. Anything over that amount and you’re probably going to be arrested and taken into custody until you have been bonded out. Exact charges and consequences of retail theft vary based on the specifics of your case.
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.