Reserved Rights

More and more lately I’ve been seeing signs in stores that say something along the lines of “We reserve the right to search your bags before you exit.” Can one tacitly abrogate his/her right to due process by entering such a store? It seems to me that they need to call the cops if they suspect me of stealing something, and, sign or no sign, they have no right to search my bags. Any legal scholars in the house that can give me the straight dope on this?

I’m no legal scholar, but I had my share of interaction with shoplifters when I worked in retail. I think the confusion here comes from the use of the word “rights”. Your rights differ depending on whether the entity you are dealing with is government or private. For instance, you have the constitutional right of freedom of assembly which cannot be abridged by the government, but a private entity can forbid you from gathering on their property. The store in this instance does not have a “right” to inspect your bags, but they certainly have the option to do so. You have the option to not shop there if the policy bothers you.

The store can detain you on suspicion of shoplifting, and use reasonable force to do so (if you run, they can chase you; if you fight, they can restrain you). If they choose to prosecute, then the police will generally be called.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

If I own a 7-11, can I arbitrarily assert the right to smash my customers in the face? They have the option of not shopping there if they don’t like it. Even the thing about detaining shoplifting suspects is more complicated, I think. I’m pretty sure that a store (or the manager/owner thereof) faces serious legal liabilities if s/he detains someone who turns out not to have stolen anything.

Again, you are using the word “right” inappropiately and you are mixing civil matters with criminal matters. You do have the option to smash your customers in the face. At that point they would have the option to have you arrested. No “rights” involved. A merchant does have the right to protect his property.

Really, it’s not.

Not as long as the merchant acted in good faith and did not commit a criminal offense (like assault) while detaining the suspect. Now, we could get into a civil rights violation discussion here, but, generally, as long as the merchant can show reasonable cause for his actions the detainee would have a very hard time winning a case.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

Maybe this differs from state to state, but I know that in my experience working retail, I was instructed that, if I wanted to so much as call a customer under suspicion, let alone ask to look in their bag, I should be VERY VERY certain that they had taken something, because accusing the innocent would likely get me and/or the store sued. Of course, I never worked at a place with any sort of electronic anti-theft system. . . I’m sure it’s a different deal altogether if a customer makes the thing go ‘beep.’

Good point, Melatonin. At one point I had the phrase “laws do vary by state” in my first reply, but I must have edited it out. For reference, I am in GA, and shoplifting laws do tend to favor the merchant. For instance, one does not have to leave the store with stolen merchandise to be cosidered a shoplifter. Concealment is enough.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik

If a merchant attempts to restrain me physically and I decline to be restrained (and I am quite capable of this), have I committed a crime? In reality, of course it would be found so. The police and courts give automatic credence to the merchant unless there is a very compelling reason not to. **EVEN if you are innocent ** of shoplifting, the store DOES have a de facto “right” to detain you and go through your things once you have entered their premises.

Along the same lines, from whence comes the authority of a store cop or a bouncer to beat someone up? They do it all the time, and are allowed to do so, bouncers especially (I’ve been one, trust me on this; though I should say that I, personally, never used more force than necessary on anyone). How can a private business extend this sort of power to some guy they choose to hire off the street? The answer is, the cops and the courts have decided to allow them to, quite independent of any legal statute. Well, I shouldn’t say that: I’m not a lawyer, just a realist. Maybe there is a statute I don’t know of.

I think you’re right, APB9999. Unless there is a local law specifically giving rent-a-cops and bouncers special legal status, then they are no different than you or I.
Consider the following scenario. Does anyone know if anything like it has been brought to court? A boucer at a night club beats up a guy. It is quite unfair; the bouncer is drastically over-reacting and/or is just a cruel sunofabitch. But the little guy has several tough friends close by who aid him by kicking the bouncer’s ass. Have they commited any crime? It would seem to me that they are just defending someone, but I’m sure that the club (and the boucer) would argue that the bouncer is some kind of para-legal force, and that the friends had no right to interfere. Does anyone know of a ruling on such a case?

“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

I know being corrected makes a lot of people crazy, but I feel obliged to point out that the word “whence” means “from where,” and that therefore to say “from whence” is the same as saying “from from where,” which is patently incorrect. Sorry.

Go and sin no more.

Live a Lush Life
Da Chef

A while back, there was a storyline in Fox Trot wherein Paige (14 year old girl) and her friend were contemplating stealing a CD. Paige put it in her purse, and after a lot of jittering, took it out and put it back on the rack. As they were leaving, a security guard stopped them and said, “I was glad to see you put that CD back, because I also saw you put it IN your purse…We’d be having a very different conversation right now.” Would he have had the authority to detain them anyway?

Remember, I’m pulling for you; we’re all in this together.
—Red Green

Troy: You’re right! Boy are my face red.

Rilchiam - I don’t know where the Foxtrot comic is set, but in the state of Georgia the guard could have had Paige arrested and charged with shoplifting as soon as she put the CD in her purse. In practice, store security may follow someone who conceals merchandise just to give them an opportunity to put it back. Technically, stopping her to have that converstaion was detention. He could have (at least in GA) detained her longer, tried to scare her silly, and even had her arrested. Again, though, in practice the fact that she put the merchandise back probably would have made the cops reluctant to arrest unless the store absolutely insisted. And merchants are not really out to prosecute or embarrass on an individual basis. They are out to protect their investment.

The overwhelming majority of people have more than the average (mean) number of legs. – E. Grebenik