No one is legally permitted to imprison or detain another person without very good reason for doing so. However, when it comes to potential shoplifters and a shopkeeper's right to detain someone suspected of stealing from a store, shopkeepers benefit from what is referred to as "shopkeeper's privilege."
According to shopkeeper's privilege, a shopkeeper may detain a suspected shoplifter for a reasonable period of time if, given the circumstances, the there exist reasonable grounds to do so. The notion of "reasonableness," however, is highly subject to interpretation. As such, there could be some argument in court over whether a particular shopkeeper's detention of an individual was reasonable.
By virtue of shopkeeper's privilege, a shop owner may detain a suspected individual and ask him or her to show that no shoplifting has occurred. If shoplifting has occurred, the shopkeeper may request the return of the stolen items.
A shopkeeper's right to detain suspects is far more limited than the right of police officers. Shopkeepers may only detain suspects for short periods of time -- perhaps just long enough for the police to arrive and deal with the situation. In this respect, the right of a shopkeeper to detain someone is not that different than the right of any person to perform a citizen's arrest. Detaining someone for too long could result in a false imprisonment or false arrest violation.
Do you think that you were falsely imprisoned or falsely arrested? Sivin & Miller LLP Attorneys at Law can help. Our New York law office can evaluate your situation to determine what your legal rights are given the facts and circumstances surrounding your detainment.