Legal question re: receipts

You know the gates that Wal-Mart and other retailers have at the door that make alarms when certain things go through them? This story pertains to those.

So a man walks through one of these gates, and the alarm goes off. We ask to see his receipt. He refuses, saying that it’s illegal to ask him for it. We explain why, and he continues to refuse. Looking at his receipt is an invasion of privacy. Curse words come from his mouth. Manager is called. Guy goes on his way, eventually.

I wasn’t part of this altercation, but a cow-orker was, and I later got to deal with him when he came to customer service to return something, where he brought up the issue with me. My counterpoint is that we have probable cause to look at his receipt, although I hadn’t thought of that at the time.

Anyway, I ask you guys: Can we look at the receipt?

You are free to ask the customer for his receipt, and he is free to refuse and go on his way. You may choose to make a citizen’s arrest, but without probable cause, you will be facing potential criminal prosecution and civil liability. The theft alarm going off falls far short of probable cause. Here is an article from a security consultant that explains the exacting requirements of probable cause for shoplifters.

Basically, your only recourse in this situation is to ban the customer from the store and have him arrested for trespassing if he comes back.

Presumably, the management has discussed just this sort of situation with its staff or outside attorneys. So doesn’t it have a written policy on this? If so, what does it say?

IANAL, but wait a minute. . .

Isn’t a reciept basically a form to a “contract” of a sale? In other words, I contract with you that I’ll buy that lamp for $20. I give you a Jackson, you give me the lamp. As proof of that contract (and ownership), I give you a reciept which you maintain a copy of as well.

If you’re on my premises, and you have merchandise which you have claim to have bought, to protect myself couldn’t I faithfully assume you have a record of that contract just before you walk out the door? If not, I’d question whether you’ve got a contract with me or not (i.e. if you ain’t got a reciept, you’re shoplifting). You’re on my private property–and have no expectation to certain types of privacy, especially if you’re shopping (looking for the “contract-of-sale”).

And that goes for trying to return something too: If you’re legitimately trying to return something, you ought to have a reciept for that “contract-of-sale”. As a merchandiser, I can’t reasonably expect to honor a committment of returns if I never sold you the damn thing in the first place. If he doesn’t provide a reciept of contract/ownership, he’s got no legal proof he owns the thing, and therefore can’t even negotiate on it’s behalf.

I would think that as corporate and public policy, you have a right to demand a reciept if he demands a return on merchandise.

I’m not a lawyer, but please, correct me if I’m wrong.

Oh, and in the case of the OP, I’ll throw this at you:

You don’t need to make a Citizen’s Arrest. You can detain him until the police arrive to investigate. Arrest and detainment, as I’ve understood from Military Police, are a big difference.

Take it where you may.

I am not a lawyer.
Here’s my best guess: in every state I know of, a merchant has the authority to check a person leaving their store for stolen property and to use reasonable force to effect such a search.
If someone has something that they didn’t clearly bring in with them, such as items stuffed into one of your shopping bags, it’s fair to assume that you (the merchant) own those items.
If the person being searched can produce a bill of sale, well, then you can probably assume that they do in fact own the items printed on the bill of sale.
So, no, you can’t demand the receipt, but yes, you can demand everything in shopping bags or shopping carts. Unless you’re trying to claim that the receipt is store property, which would kinda’ be a stretch.
However, you really need to talk to Wal-Mart’s Loss Prevention staff or your store’s general manager regarding this issue. Wal-Mart has very specific rules pertaining to how to handle this situation and similar situations and you could easily wind up fired if you, personally, exercised Wal-Mart’s full legal authority in this matter.
Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s company policy.

Detain = kidnapping :frowning:

You do not have a right to search or detain anyone on your premises.

But, if you see someone remove merchandise from your premises you may make reasonable measures to retain this merchandise.

Store personnel may make an “arrest” but this is but the prelude to the arrival of the police, who will make the formal arrest.

A receipt is not a per se a contract but a proof of a completion of a contract.

Define that. Now.

Kidnapping: Your rights have been violated.

Detention: You still have your rights. We’re just waiting for proper authorites.

I will detain anyone that I so choose. “Arrest” is detention with a legal authority. “Kidnapping” is an aggravated detainment, and abduction, without legal authority. “Detainment” is just holding you in one place.

Pick and choose your words.

If you are a threat on my base, I will detain you until the civil authorities arrive.

I’m not aware of a legal definition for “aggravated detainment.” As an example, Wisconsin defines kidnapping as follows:

So while you appear to be correct that detainment doesn’t necessarily constitute kidnapping, your assertion that you have the authority to detain anyone you see fit strikes me as unsupportable.

I’d double-check your lawful authority before you start detaining people all willy-nilly.

Same to you.

That’s a different issue entirely.

By the way, Tripler, what’s up with

Seems a little bossy for what’s normally a polite message board. Perhaps you thought you were still on your military base and could order others around?

Not nessesarily so in Criminal or Civil law. Even with the Police, it’s fuzzy. One a person isn’t ‘free to go’ he is considered to be under arrest for some things. For example, if the Police 'detain" you, and you then blurt out something stupid before they Mirandize you- it’s generally inadmissable. But if you’re just chatting and not held, detained or arrested in any way- then that blurt is likely admissable.

If you ‘detain’ someone, and you didn’t get arrested or sued for assault or False imprisonment- then you’d likely be up for false arrest. Just saying "you’re detained’ doesn’t make "detained’ a magic word that gets you off scot free from any civil or criminal liability.


Google “Merchant’s Privilege” with quotes

Yep. However, because of concerns about the safety of store security people, as a practical matter policy at retailers is specifically not to do this.

Basically it comes down to this. I will leave. If you try to use words to prevent me from leaving, I will ignore them. If you use force to prevent me from leaving, if you touch my person or my property (for which I have paid for) while on your premises, i am calling 911 and reporting you for assault and kidnapping. Merchant’s Privilige is more of a legal “right” to detain. It does not extend to the use of force or injury to detain, and if you argue that it does, let’s see a court or jury in the land that will agree with you.

To elaborate a little, “Merchant’s Privilege” might be a right bestowed upon the merchant by common law, but I am not ready to believe that a) It would be against the law for me to leave regardless of what they say b) if they touch me to detain me, that “Mechant’s Privilege” supercedes self-defense.

I can understand if they were making citizens arrest, however, citizens arrest is only valid if a law has been broken. If I’ve broken no laws, and I am willing to bet on it, in my humble, non-lawyer, opinion I can take reasonable measures to resist citizens arrest.

  1. Many states have statutes codifying the merchant’s privilege. E.g., California Penal Code 490.5.
  2. Problem is, these statutes and the common law privilege only apply if the merchant has probable cause to believe that the person detained was shoplifting.
  3. Automatically or randomly searching customers or demanding proof that they are not shoplifters does not fall under this privilege because the merchant has no probable cause. Probable cause requires some basis to conclude that a crime has been committed.
  4. Many stores attempt to avoid this difficulty by contract. They have signs saying “we reserve the right to inspect packages and request receipts.”
  5. The language is not quite right because:
    a. They want to do more than just inspect packages–they want to be able to force the customer to cooperate.
    b. They never had the right to begin with.
  6. Better would be a big sign over the entryway that says, “Entry to this store is conditioned on the customer’s consent to: search of their packages and belongings, production of a receipt before the customer is permitted to leave, and bullying by brutish thugs if the customer does not cooperate. By entering the store, you agree to this condition.”
  7. I haven’t been able to find a case on this issue.
  8. As Mr. Miyagi says, “Best block: No be there.” If you don’t want to have to show the receipt, take your business elsewhere.

Here is a good discussion of the issue.

Reviewing the OP, one key sentence emerges, at least indofar as Virginia law is concerned:

I notice that Sxyzzx confidently claims, “The theft alarm going off falls far short of probable cause.”

This confident claim may well be true in other parts of the country – although I doubt it - but in Virginia I can completely dismiss it as false. Virginia Code § 8.01-226.9 provides, inter alia that:

In Virginia, the merchant, his agent, or his employee may detain, in a reasonable manner, and only for such time as is necessary for an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the activation of the device, any person who exits the store and sets off the device, becase the device’s activation, by law, constitutes probable cause.

Well I flunked the exam. I missed the part about the alarm going off. :o I’d be willing to bet that setting off an alarm is probable cause just about everywhere.

What I said about automatic and random searches still applies, though.