How to Prosecute Shoplifters

Written by ehow legal editor
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Shoplifting can be prosecuted in both civil and criminal courts. If you are a merchant trying to recover losses, here is basic information regarding the shoplifting prosecution process.

Skill level:


    Apprehending Shoplifters

  1. 1

    To prosecute shoplifting, the merchant must establish that there was probable cause to detain and question a suspect.

  2. 2

    A merchant or security guard must witness a shoplifter selecting merchandise in the store.

  3. 3

    The shoplifter must be watched while attempting to conceal or walk away with an item, and must be watched continuously while in the store.

  4. 4

    A suspected shoplifter can only be approached outside the store and after it is obvious that the person was not planning to pay for the merchandise. Avoid using excessive force or violating any rights like illegal searches.

  5. 5

    Know your rights as a merchant in terms of your protection against claims of false arrest or false imprisonment. State laws differ as to what you can do to protect yourself. Check the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention to find out more about the rights and responsibilities of merchants (see Resources below).

    Prosecution Process

  1. 1

    Hire an attorney whether you are prosecuting a shoplifter or are being prosecuted yourself for violating a suspect's rights.

  2. 2

    If you are trying to recover monetary losses, you must file suit in a civil case.

  3. 3

    If you call the police to make an arrest and are pressing charges, the shoplifting will be handled as a criminal matter and will be tried in a criminal court.

  4. 4

    Contact your local court system to find out what the penalties and procedures are for shoplifting where you live.

Tips and warnings

  • The prosecution process can be time-consuming and expensive for both the suspected shoplifter and the merchant who is pressing charges.

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