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What To Do If You Are Suspected of Shoplifting

With the holidays approaching, more shoppers will come out in force to pick up a holiday gift for their loved ones. Understandably, retailers will be keeping a closer eye on their products to ensure that the shoppers don’t become shoplifters.

Shoppers can unwittingly become victims of the criminal justice system, even if they’re not shoplifters. High-end retailers have been under recent scrutiny for acts of discrimination against potential buyers, in one circumstance even telling a black woman that she would not be able to afford the item she was looking at, before the clerk realized she was Oprah Winfrey.

Besides acts of profiling and discouraging certain individuals from making purchases, these and other retailers have wrongly accused shoppers of stealing items. Worse yet, alleged shoplifters are escorted by store personnel into an “interrogation” room of sorts. Macy’s has a room known as “Room 140” dedicated exclusively for questioning. It features wooden benches and holding cells complete with bars, making it seem more like a prison than a department store.

In these rooms, loss prevention employees of the store use many tactics to recover stolen merchandise and recoup security costs. In many cases, they demand far more in payment than the value of the item stolen. In some cases, up to five times the product value. They may demand immediate payment, threatening to sue if you refuse. In one recent instance of alleged shoplifting, a shopper at Home Depot was detained and fined hundreds of dollars for a pair of $3.99 work gloves that he removed from the store to load lumber into his cart.

If you are approached by store employees or security before or upon leaving a store, know your rights. California code states that a merchant may detain you if they have probable cause to suspect you’ve taken merchandise without paying for it. DO NOT attempt to fight or struggle against them. Doing so may turn a theft charge into a form of robbery, which carries severe penalties.

If you’re taken to their interrogation area, the environment will likely be uncomfortable, even hostile. But under NO circumstances should you admit to ANY crime or sign ANY document. Beware of their tactics.

They may ask you to confess in exchange for them not calling the police. But don’t fall for this trick. They always call the police anyway. They may offer ‘incentives’ for confessing, such as reduced penalties, lenience, or a quick release, but don’t listen to them. These decisions are not made by them.

There’s only one thing you should tell them: “I don’t want to answer any questions, and I want a criminal lawyer.” Don’t be afraid to repeat that statement. Use it as the answer for every question they ask you.

Let’s face it. After hours of being questioned you’re probably tired and want to just go home. Even those who didn’t steal anything are probably willing to make a sacrifice, even if it means being accused of a crime they did not commit. But resist the temptation and don’t do it! Any signed statement or affidavit stating that you stole something is evidence against you in a potential criminal case. In addition to harassment from the department store, you will find a criminal charge to bring with it certain, undesirable elements as well. Your employer may terminate you, professional employment licenses may be compromised, and finding another job will be much more challenging with a public criminal record.

If you are arrested or cited for shoplifting, call Orange County criminal lawyer Staycie R. Sena for an immediate consultation at (949) 477-8088. She may be able to get the criminal charges reduced or dismissed, especially for first-time offenders.