Shoplifting laws: What's "shopkeeper's privilege"?

Shopkeepers in Georgia have the right to detain you if they have a reasonable suspicion that you've been shoplifting. However, the shopkeeper's right to detain -- otherwise known as "shopkeeper's privilege" -- is limited.

For example, the shopkeeper or employee needs to have probable cause to believe you were shoplifting. Also, the shopkeeper or employee needs to have seen you take the thing with your own hands, conceal it and start walking toward the exit and not toward the cashiers.

The limits of "shopkeeper's privilege" and your rights as a shopper

Depending on the legal jurisdiction where you are, shopkeepers may have different rights. Sometimes, the shop owners or employees must wait until you've actually walked outside the premises before they can approach you. Other times, they can approach you before you've left the store.

It's not uncommon for security personnel to bend these rules and attempt to detain you unlawfully. However, most people do not know their precise rights in this regard, so the security officers get away with it.

It's not recommended to resist store security personnel or give them a problem unnecessarily, as it could escalate the situation. However, it's important for Georgia residents to know that when security approaches a shopper to detain him or her, they are limited in what they have the legal authority to do. Security cannot detain you in a small area and they cannot keep you inside a single room. However, they can require you to stay on the property for a limited period of time until police arrive.

If the shop owner or manager does not call the police immediately upon your detainment, you have the right to ask for the police to come. You also have the right to request legal representation. If -- upon further inspection by the shop manager -- they discover that you have stolen merchandise on your person, police may arrest you. Even if you don't have merchandise, it's possible that a witness or employee will come forward to say that he or she saw you stealing, which could also lead to an arrest.

You always have the right to refuse to answer questions from both store security and police. You also have the right to ask for representation from a lawyer.

Were you detained by a store for alleged shoplifting?

Individuals who get detained unlawfully by a store might be able to incorporate unlawful detainment as a part of their legal defenses against shoplifting if an arrest occurs. Ultimately, the more you know about the legal system, the better job you'll do navigating your criminal proceedings.

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