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Stopped in a Florida Store and Accused of Stealing? Know Your Rights!

As the summer is quickly approaching the thought of wearing last years clothes sends many of us to the local mall. Have you ever been waiting in the check out line arms full of new finds and suddenly your two year old darts away from you heading straight for the exit? As you make a mad dash to grab his arm the store alarms sound and you remember the things you are still holding, forgotten in your moment of panic to save your child from certain death. You turn, child in hand, to walk back inside and out of no where a rather large bald man holding a walkie talkie from the 80's is in your face telling you to follow him, that he has some questions for you. Unsure of what is going on, you follow him to his office in the women's clothing section. The room is small, no windows, a table that seats three on each side. Your son begins to whimper, scared of this stranger. As he locks the door behind you he tells you that you have been caught stealing from his store and the Store intends to prosecute you.

After you get over the shock of this outrageous accusation and try to console your son who is in a full out tantrum you try to explain yourself to this man who is looking at you as though you were the lowest of the low. The more that you explain the more he laughs and tells you to admit that you stole the items and intended to run with them but were caught instead.

In Florida a merchant who has probable cause to believe a person has committed retail theft and that the property can be recovered, has the right to take that person into custody and detain the offender in a reasonable manner for a reasonable manner for reasonable length of time.

What that means is that the merchant can keep you from leaving the store if he or she believes they can get back the things that were stolen. What they can't do is hold you beyond a reasonable time. What is reasonable? The time necessary to get your information and call police to the store. They can't hold you in a tiny room for hours without calling police or releasing you. What you need to always remember is that the person holding you there isn't your friend, they may be overly friendly or even tell you that they just want to know what happened and then you can go. DO NOT BELIEVE THEM! They have a job to do and that is to prove you were stealing from their store. Always ask for an attorney, everything you say is going to be used to convict you of theft.

Jody L. Fisher is a central Florida criminal defense attorney. Contact Attorney Fisher if you have questions about your legal rights.

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