While a suspected shoplifter is under arrest at the store, security guards typically will attempt to get the suspect to:
- Admit to stealing property from the store.
- Sign a written statement in which the suspect admits to stealing property from the store.
- Sign a “Trespass Notice” agreeing not to enter any of the retailer’s stores in the future.
- Sign a document in which the suspect agrees to pay a civil penalty.
- Pay the civil penalty for shoplifting.
Don’t sign any documents. And don’t pay the civil penalty.
For all the reasons that speaking with police officers is a really bad idea, speaking with store security guards, while you’re suspected of shoplifting, is a very bad idea. A few reasons:
- You might confess to a crime that you committed.
- Without confessing, you might admit facts that tend to prove you guilty.
- You might tell a lie that can be proven false.
- The security guard might misunderstand you to be making a confession or an admission that you’re not actually making.
- The security guard might only remember the parts of your statement that tend to prove you guilty, and forget the other parts of your statement.
- The security guard might outright lie and say that you said something that you didn’t say.
- You might falsely confess to a crime that you didn’t commit, in order to end the extremely stressful situation of being accused and interrogated.
Many suspects, innocent and guilty, have told me that after security guards arrested the suspect, the guards promised to release the suspect if he or she signed an agreement to pay the civil penalty — by credit card, right there in the store. After the suspect signed, security guards transferred custody to the police, who formally charged the clients with shoplifting-related crimes. In other words, the security guards lied to extract money from suspects whom they then turned over to the police to be arrested.
If security guards don’t have sufficient evidence to arrest you, then they should release you. Agreeing to pay could be interpreted as an admission of theft, which would constitute sufficient evidence for security guards to arrest you. So, agreeing to pay could result in an arrest that otherwise wouldn’t occur.
If security guards have sufficient evidence to arrest you, then they will arrest you. Your agreement to pay won’t cause them not to arrest you (even if they lie and tell you otherwise).
So, while you’re at the store, in the custody of security guards, don’t sign any documents. And don’t pay the civil penalty. Neither signing nor paying will benefit you in any way. Either could harm you. So don’t do it.
Bruce Yerman is a New York City criminal defense attorney. If you would like to discuss shoplifting charges, contact Bruce for a free consultation: