Do I Have to Answer Questions by Store Security When They Stop Me for a Retail Theft?

Retail-Theft

This is a common question that I am frequently asked by clients.  The short answer is no, but let me explain further.

If you are under criminal investigation for anything, whether you are being investigated for a Retail Theft by store security or by the police, you are under no legal obligation to cooperate with them.  This includes answering their questions.

Let’s talk about the police.  If you are being questioned by the police, the law provides you with some protections.  If you are in custody and the police start asking you questions the law provides that they must advise you of your Miranda Rights.  You are in custody when you are not free to leave.  If you are in custody and the police want to question you, they must inform you that you have the right to remain silent and that anything you say can and will be used against you in court.  They must also inform you that you have a right to a lawyer and that if you cannot afford a lawyer they will provide one for you for free.  If you waive your right to remain silent, then the police can use anything you say to them against you in Court.

I always advise my clients to demand a lawyer immediately, as soon as they start being questioned by the police.  Unfortunately, many of my clients do not always follow my advice.  They think that they can talk themselves out of it.  That’s not how the police operate.  The job of the police officer is to make an arrest if they have enough evidence to prove that a crime was committed and that you are the one that committed the crime.  Many times, a police officer will lie to you to get you to start talking to them.  An example would be if a police officer promises you that if you just told them what you did that you would be allowed to go home and that nothing will happen.  Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court has said that lies like this are perfectly legal and acceptable police procedures.  I cannot go into court and ask that the statement you made be thrown out because the police lied to you.  However, if you requested a lawyer and the police continued to question you, that is a valid reason to have a statement, or a confession, thrown out of Court.

Next, let’s talk about store security.  With most of the Retail Theft cases that I have handled, almost all the evidence was gathered by store security.  And there’s good reason for that.  Not only is store security immediately on the scene but store security can question you without any obligation to provide you with your Miranda warnings.  The obligation to provide Miranda warnings only applies to government employees, like police officers.  Store security are not employed by the government.  They are not required to inform you of your Miranda Rights.  They don’t have to prove that you voluntarily gave up your right to remain silent or your right to a lawyer.  Store security can take you into custody for a Retail Theft without having to prove probable cause, like the police do.  In most of the Retail Theft cases that I have handled, I have noticed that the police officers will wait until store security gathers all the evidence before taking the shoplifter into custody.  The main witness in most of my Retail Theft cases is not a police officer but a store security agent, or Loss Prevention Agent.  Not only will the Loss Prevention Agent testify about what they saw my client do while they were in the store, but the loss prevention agent will be the one that took the statement from my client.  Because the Loss Prevention Agent is not a government employee, I cannot challenge the statement on the basis that my client did not get their Miranda warnings and did not waive them. It simply is not an issue when the statement was given to a store security officer.

There’s one more thing about the difference between store security and the police.  The police have a right to place you in handcuffs and take you down to the police station.  If you are under criminal investigation, you can be held in custody for about 72 hours before either being charged with a crime or you must be released.  Store security does not have the right to place you in handcuffs and hold you for 72 hours.  That’s why the Store Security will call the police as soon as you are stopped.  Since the police can hold you for up to 72 hours, that can cause a lot of stress and a lot of pressure on you to break down and start talking.  But you must remember to persist with your demand to have the police provide you with a lawyer once they start questioning you.  By talking to the police all you are doing is digging a deeper and deeper hole for yourself.

Chicago Retail Theft lawyer, James Dimeas, handles Retail Theft cases throughout Cook County, DuPage County, and Kane County.  If you are being charged with a Retail Theft, call Attorney James Dimeas for free and confidential consultation. Mr. Dimeas can always be reached at 847-807-7405.

Additional Resources:

Illinois Retail Theft Statute, 720 ILCS 5/16-25