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Miami Criminal Defense Attorney / Blog / Criminal Defense / Can a Store Employee Get You Arrested for Shoplifting in Florida?

Can a Store Employee Get You Arrested for Shoplifting in Florida?


In the past few years, large retail chains like Wal-Mart and Target have been particularly aggressive in pursuing suspected shoplifters. You might think shoplifting is not a major crime. In most cases such “retail theft” is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 60 days and a $500 fine. But depending on the value of the merchandise allegedly stolen, Florida prosecutors may charge a suspected shoplifter with grand theft, a felony that can lead to as much as 5 years in prison.

Officers Do Not Have to Personally Witness Alleged Theft to Have “Probable Cause”

A question we commonly get about shoplifting in Florida is, “Can a police officer arrest me based solely on a store employee’s accusation?” Over the years, a number of Florida courts have considered this question. And the general consensus is that yes, a store employee’s report can be enough to create “probable cause” to handcuff and detain a person on suspicion of shoplifting, even if the officer did not personally witness the alleged crime.

For example, in a 2018 case, Bent v. State, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal held a shoplifting arrest based on a report filed by Wal-Mart employees was sufficient to justify the defendant’s arrest. In this case, the Wal-Mart employee “observed [the defendant] taking merchandise from the shelves and placing it into her cart without looking at the prices.” The defendant then “paid for only some of the merchandise and then attempted to leave the store.” The employee then stopped the defendant, detained her in the store, and called the police.

When an officer arrived, the Wal-Mart employee reported the suspected shoplifting. The officer then handcuffed the defendant and searched her purse. This led to the defendant’s arrest and prosecution on retail theft charges.

As the Fourth District explained, normally Florida law forbids the police from conducting warrantless searches–like the one described above–in misdemeanor cases unless the alleged misdemeanor actually occurred in an officer’s presence. But Florida’s shoplifting laws create an exception to this rule. When an officer has “probable cause to believe that a retail theft” occurred, the officer can detain the suspect and conduct a search “for the purpose of attempting” to recover the allegedly stolen merchandise, so long as the detention is “in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time.”

In Bent and similar cases, the Florida courts have said that a store employee’s report is, in and of itself, enough to generate the probable cause necessary for officers to take advantage of this exception.

Contact Asilia Law Firm Today

Even a conviction for misdemeanor petit theft can leave you with a criminal record that may lead to jail time and impose substantial hardship on your life moving forward. It is therefore important to defend yourself against such charges. Our experienced Miami criminal attorney can help. Contact Asilia Law Firm today to schedule an initial consultation with a member of our team.



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