Legal Rights When Exiting a Store.

Every now and then one of those beeping security things goes off when I’m leaving a store after making a purchase. Even though everybody nearby stares at me like I’ve done something horrible, I always stop and let a store employee inspect my bags and receipt.

Do I have to do this? May I choose not to have my property searched without a warrant? Can I continue to my car and leave? Does store security have a legal right to physically restrain me until law enforcement can come? Would a police officer need a warrant to search my bags?

We’ve done these threads, although I don’t have a link for you. The upshot is that it can vary by state. I remember there was an east coast state (Virginia?) that said that a beeping theft detector was evidence enough of a crime for store security to stop you. In California, that apparently is not enough.

I have a buddy who is the #2 security guy at a CA Target, and he says you certainly don’t have to stop for him, unless he is in the process of making a “citizen’s” arrest. To do that, he has to have clear evidence that a crime is being committed. He told me recently how Suspicious Person got out of sight, and the CDs he was carrying disappeared. Now, odds are they were down his pants, but in the absense of clear evidence, SP was allowed to leave the store.

I have blown through a Best Buy receipt checkpoint, although they didn’t like it. Now, if they can call the cops on you while you’re still there, a cop has a different power: detainment. You’re not arrested, but you’d better stick around. I’m not sure about going through the bag.

AFAIK, you need to ask someone you trust in your state. The evidentiary (sp?) laws vary.

Covered heavily elsewhere, if it alarms they can detain you breifly to investigate, if no alarm, they cannot make it mandatory. If they find unpaid merchandise they can legally restrain you for law enforcement. Jurisdictions vary slightly but that alarm generally = probable cause to investigate.

If you decide to bolt after setting off the alarm plan on them noting your plate numbers and calling the police…things like that tend to come back to haunt you, maybe even a few blocks away.

I will save police personal searches for an board lawyer since there are other complexities there, store employees do not need a warrant with probable cause for search.

Ca penal code
490.5 (f) (1) A merchant may detain a person for a reasonable time for
the purpose of conducting an investigation in a reasonable manner
whenever the merchant has probable cause to believe the person to be
detained is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken
merchandise from the merchant’s premises.

Debates have gone on for a while as to the definition of probable cause for this purpose. Stores in CA are most likely not going to push the issue on an alarm alone, if they already had been monitoing you for some other suspicious behavior like being witnessed putting merchandise in a pocket, etc, plan on being stopped.

Usually store policies are more restrictive than the law requires so they know they have a solid bust that cannot be weasled out of.

If they saw SP conceal an item, he attempted to leave without paying, and they stop and search him, no merchandise, they could be in trouble, merchandise found, SP gets arrested and handed over to police.

This much, at least, I agree with. Recently, too.

Unfortunately, not all of the information that people post is accurate, either here or in those past threads.

You could look here:

but filtering out the nonsense is more effort than it’s worth. That said, you’ll do okay if you just read Bricker’s posts.

There’s a better signal-to-noise ratio here:

Normal retail stores really can’t stop you unless they are willing to make a citizens arrest. The beeping, however does give them considerable protection, as long as they stop everyone that beeps and they don’t know their system is defective (for example if they know it always goes off, then it no longer is a real alarm, is it?). If they only stop black dudes when the alarm goes off and wave off white dudes, then they could be in real trouble. Best thing to do when the beep goes off is turn around, look confused and wave at them, maybe give them a “thumbs up”. Then go on, without running. If they ask to see a reciept, wave it at them, while walking.

However, a Membership store- of which you are a member and signed releases and everything- have more rights, and don’t need the beep. Certainly, they can revoke your membership.

At a non-member store, they need the beep; otherwise you can cheerfully tell them to get stuffed.


This is not accurate. See prior threads.

Please don’t post bad information on legal issues in GQ. Someone might rely on it and get into trouble.

Did you even read the threads Random linked before you typed in this inaccurate, untrue, and wrong information?

Exactly what is wrong? That non-member stores can not stop you without the “beep” (that is to say probable cause?) Or that Member stores can revoke your membership if you decline to stop?

Ordinary stores need probable cause. The beep often gives them that probable cause and thus they can detain you. Did you Bricker not say (in the second thread cited)“Reviewing the OP, one key sentence emerges, at least indofar as Virginia law is concerned:

Virginia Code § 8.01-226.9 provides, inter alia that:
The activation of an electronic article surveillance device as a result of a person exiting the premises or an area within the premises of a merchant where an electronic article surveillance device is located shall constitute probable cause for the detention of such person …
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.”

So- the beep gives PC, right? No PC, no right to detain, right? They can’t just do it at random, as was said in that very same thread. (Of course, it’s not always a “beep” that gives PC)

But only if the beep device is working. As you Bricker responded to my query later on in the same thread "
Originally Posted by DrDeth
Now Bricker- are you really telling us, that despite the letter of the law- that if a business had the alarm go off every time anyone went out- then a high Court couldn’t overturn the “letter of the law” in a specific case? endQuote:me
If the business had fraudulently set the alarm to go off every single time, then I suppose a court could find that the device was not an actual electronic article surveillance device within the meaning of the law.

I took your “every single time” to be hyperbole. But yes, I grant that if the device were going off every single time, then it’s not really an electronic article surveillance device.

And certainly, if a store only stopped black dudes, that’d be a serious violation of the US Const and Federal law, would it not?

So maybe my point that the Member store can revoke your membership, maybe that’s what yopu say is wrong? But wait, isn’t it **Random **that said "
In effect, Costco does this, except for the brutish thugs part. It’s an understood-in-advance condition of membership. If someone refused to show a receipt, I doubt Costco would do anything physical to restrain him (absent other probable cause to detain), but I’m confident that his membership would be cancelled…
I’m not as cooperative at certain other places, such as Home Depot. There’s no advance agreement, and not everyone is stopped. It’s personnel are more demanding and less polite. I will generally show my receipt, but I am less patient, and will leave without showing it if there are undue delays.

So exactly what info in my post is wrong?

Ah, maybe what **Random quoted me as saying "Normal retail stores really can’t stop you unless they are willing to make a citizens arrest. " which taken out of context is wrong given what the OP said. But I went on to say that the “beep” gives them considerable protection…
which part you left off. In other words, the beeping gives them Probable Cause, and with PC they then can detain you. Without PC they can’t legally detain you, now can they?

Heh. I’ve always been tempted to empty my pockets of ANYTHING of value, go to various stores and sprint past the store security guy to see if he actually gives chase, then publish the results for kicks.
The joke is that I’m kinda’ big and scary looking, and I realize most of those places have a “no chase” policy anyway.
My only concerns are “disorderly conduct” charges and assault charges if someone gets hurt trying to tackle me. Even if my actions were ostensibly legal, I would certainly be creating a situation where an avoidable injury might occur.

Just to be clear- here at the SDMB- especially in GQ, we don’t just say “you’re wrong” or even “I am a lawyer and you’re not, you’re wrong”. We expect you to say what is wrong and how it is wrong. You failed to do so. If you think I am wrong, please inform me as per the normal conventions around here.

Just to be clear- here at the SDMB- especially in GQ, we don’t just say “you’re wrong” or even “I am a lawyer and you’re not, you’re wrong”. We expect you to say what is wrong and how it is wrong. You failed to do so. If you think I am wrong, please inform me as per the normal conventions around here.

From my perspective, here is what is wrong with your claim:

(Emphasis added.)

This is false. Period. They don’t need the beep. The beep is a safe-harbor under some statutes. What they generally need is probable cause (or whatever common law or statute says they need). Under the VA statute the beep creates automatic probable cause. Without it, the merchant can still detain you if it has probable cause to do so. I think that’s what Random was talking about.

Setting off the alarm is just one way to establish probable cause* to detain.

Contrary to what you said before, it isn’t the only way. You can’t necessarily tell the store “to get stuffed” just because there’s no beep.

*In my state, it’s “reasonable basis”, not probable cause.

  1. This paragraph makes my brain hurt.

  2. Your first post is wrong because you said “Normal retail stores really can’t stop you unless they are willing to make a citizens arrest.” That’s incorrect, because you are improperly equating a merchant’s stop/detention with a citizen’s arrest. They aren’t necessarily the same thing. In fact, in my state (Illinois), the statute that establishes the merchant’s right to detain (which I cited in one of the earlier threads) also states that “a detention as permitted in this Article does not constitute an arrest…” (720 ILSC 5/16A-6). Citizen’s arrests are something else.

Although it’s possible that other states may define a merchant’s right to detain as a type of citizen’s arrest, they aren’t usually considered to be the same thing. More generally, in criminal law, a detention is not the same as an arrest. A detention can take place even is there is no legal basis for an outright arrest.

  1. How did I take what you originally said on this point “out of context”? Please explain.

  2. Setting off an alarm is not the only way to create the basis for the detention. See first part of my reply, above. Also see the prior threads.
    (Any failure on my part here to address other parts of your posts does not mean that I think those other parts are accurate. Rather, it means that it’s time for me to go home.)

  1. Gosh, thanks for the tip on GQ standards. Somehow I’ve failed to learn this in the (nearly) 7 years I’ve been responding to legal questions in GQ.

  2. Maybe you missed where I said “See prior threads”? That’s a cite. Assuming, of course, that those threads have proper cites themselves. Let’s check. In the earlier of the 2 threads (the second of my links), you participated. So did I. So did Bricker. His posts included a reference to a specific statute. So did mine. Those are cites.

Other posts in that thread had other more actual legal cites. Your posts didn’t. (Vague references to half-remembered “consumer help column[s]” in the “local San Jose Mecury news” are not cites. Actual, legal, or otherwise. Not in GQ, not in the legal world, and not in Highlights for Children.)

  1. You didn’t get it the the earlier thread, despite a direct response to you by Bricker, and posts by at least 3 lawyers citing legal authority. You still don’t get it, yet you continue to post.

  2. The “normal conventions around here” hold that you don’t post half-remembered nonsense or half-assed guesses about legal topics. Want a cite for that? Here you go:

As usual, Gfactor is correct.

To be specific, in the last thread linked by Random, see Post #18 by samclem, moderator.

AFAIK, this isn’t more restrictive than the law, because their point is that if they’re going to get into a fight over the arrest (it’s happened), they are not going to be successfully sued for false arrest. If you just think someone looks like and acts like a thief, and then wrestle them to the ground only to find you’re wrong, you have a big problem.

Wow, that really proves the point of “It all depends where you are.” I had never heard that a merchant might have the power to detain.

In the interests of accuracy, I’ve got a few corrections and clarifications to what I’ve said in this thread. They’re all pretty minor, but FWIW:

  1. In my cite to Illinois statute, it’s ILCS (Illinois Compiled Statutes), not “ILSC”. Typo.

  2. Although (obviously), I’m not impressed by the quality of DrDeth’s posts here or in the earlier thread, I don’t disagree with the actual text of the one post where he refers to the newspaper consumer column. Still, though, even that post reveals somewhat of a lack of comprehension of what’s been said before.

  3. Although I (nearly always) agree with Gfactor (as I said above), I do have one very tiny quibble about an implication that could be drawn from one of his posts in the prior thread. It’s not worth going into, at least not for now. Too boring and legally technical. Besides, I think he’d agree that the implication was not intended. I only mention it to avoid being charged with inconsistency if someone else raises the issue later, given my blanket ratification of his posts.

  4. The individual moderator reply identified by PBear42 is, as he says, the most important part of my cite, but the part of the thread that goes before that reply is also relevant to my point.