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What Happens if You’re Wrongly Arrested for Shoplifting?

It is fairly common for stores or malls to have private security guards on hand to watch for shoplifters and to handle any other issues that might arise with customers. Because these individuals are not police officers, they may be more prone to mistakes than trained law enforcement officers would be.

What do you do if a security guard makes a mistake and accuses you of shoplifting? How do you protect your rights without escalating the situation?

Establishing your innocence

Security guards generally do not have power to make arrests or take suspected shoplifters to jail. Most of the time, they can only detain a suspected criminal just long enough for a police officer to arrive and make the arrest if there is reason to do so.

There are laws in place that protect police officers against false arrest charges if the officer had a valid reason for arresting a suspect who was later found to be innocent. Those same protections do not exist for private citizens, including security guards at shopping centers. This means that a security guard who makes such a mistake and detains an innocent person could be subject to a lawsuit — usually filed against the security guard’s employer.

Regardless, it is important to remain calm if a security guard pulls you aside and accuses you of shoplifting or any other offense. Your best course of action is to stay quiet and wait for a law enforcement officer to arrive. The fact that you are innocent should become clear to a trained officer.

If you have been accused of a crime you did not commit and are indeed placed under arrest, meet with experienced Berks County criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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