Many states, including Virginia, have adopted a merchant or shopkeeper’s
privilege that allows stores to detain individuals suspected of shoplifting
for reasonable periods of time, by using reasonable force. In some states
this privilege has been adopted by the courts and in others by the legislature.
In Virginia there is a statute that defines this privilege. See Va. Code
Ann. § 8.01-226.9 (“Exemption from civil liability in connection
with arrest or detention of person suspected of shoplifting.”) While
the statute does not necessarily distinguish between detention and arrest,
the terms are used in their general sense. Detention is a brief holding
for questioning, while an arrest is full blown seizure where an individual
is placed in custody. The privilege applies to the detention or arrest
of an individual, and provides civil immunity from claims of slander,
malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, false arrest, or assault and battery.
What the statute does not do, however, is provide businesses free reign
to engage in tortious conduct, or violate someone’s civil rights.
The detention under this statute must be reasonable in force and cannot
exceed one hour in length. The detention can take place on the premises,
or when the merchant is in close pursuit of a suspected shoplifter. Furthermore,
prior to detaining or causing the arrest of an individual, a merchant
must have “probable cause to believe that the person had shoplifted
or committed willful concealment of goods or merchandise.” The activation
of an electronic control device automatically provides the merchant probable
cause to stop an individual in a reasonable manner for a reasonable time
in order to inquire about the circumstances of the activation if signs
are posted at the exit indicating that these devices are in use.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of an overzealous merchant
or retail store owner who unlawfully detained you without probably cause,
the attorneys at the Halperin Law Center can assist you in identifying
any potential claims you may have, as we have experience with these types of cases.
Contact the personal injury attorneys at the Halperin Law Center for a
free consultation today.