22 Aug Retail Prison: You Have More Rights than You May Be Led to Believe
When shoplifting is suspected, retail stores have the right to hold, investigate, and search the accused person. With the looming threat of costly civil penalties, many retail stores coerce the accused shoplifters into signing confessions and paying monetary damages—a practice that treads a thin line between permissible and impermissible behavior.
In a recent decision, Judge Manuel Mendez of the New York Supreme Court has granted a preliminary injunction against Macy’s—the large retail magnate—on behalf of a person who sued the chain for false arrest and abuse of process.
As a result, Macy’s is prohibited from forcing accused shoplifters to sign confessions. This judgment is a warning to all retailers that use this tactic to their advantage.
Shoplifting & the Law
Under the statutes, the law grants power to retail chains in the event shoplifting occurs.
Upon suspicion of shoplifting, the retail store can:
- Hold the person for a reasonable amount of time;
- Investigate the incident; and
- Search whatever bag(s) he or she may be carrying.
If there is no evidence of shoplifting, the person should be released.
However, if a person is in fact shoplifting, the police should be notified immediately; yet, that is not always what occurs.
Many retail stores, including Macy’s, scare people into signing confessions using the alternative threat of civil penalties—many of which can be very severe. In New York, the civil penalties include the cost of the merchandise (up to $1500 if not recovered) as well as an additional penalty awarded to the merchant (the greater of 5x the value of the product or $500).
In this situation, a suspected shoplifter is given no opportunity to object, have a hearing, or receive guidance from an attorney before signing the confession.
Worse yet, the merchant makes it appear that they will release the accused after receiving a signed confession; but, the opposite often occurs! Upon obtaining a signature, the merchant contacts the police!
The Effects of the Injunction
As a result of the decision, Macy’s immediately ceased this practice across the nation. And now that litigation is in the process, Macy’s refuses to comment on any aspect of this issue.
This practice occurs in virtually every big retail chain. A message has been sent to every retailer —this practice is unlawful!
Key Takeaway Points
Anyone who is ever put in “retail prison” should remember:
- Do not sign anything, and most importantly,
- Just face the consequences!
If you have questions about an experience in a retail chain or the impending ramifications of this case, you better call Saul at (212) 363-7701!