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Shoplifting Laws in Tennessee

May 22, 2009

Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg host thousands of merchants that provide their merchandise to the public. Close to 10 million visitors travel from all over the United States to visit the Great Smokey Mountains every year. Theft, particularly shoplifting, is a growing concern among merchants in the area.

Shoplifting can have a very negative impact regarding a businesses livelihood. This is why it is important for both merchants, as well as customers, to be familiar with the law that governs this issue and understand that there are legal consequences for their actions.

Shoplifting Detentions are Privileged

A merchant can detain a shoplifting a suspect for a reasonable time using reasonable force.

  • A merchant, a merchant’s employee, or agent or a peace officer who has probable cause to believe that a person has committed or is attempting to commit the offense of theft, as defined in § 39-14-103, may detain that person on or off the premises of the mercantile establishment if the detention is done for any or all of the following purposes:
    1. To question the person, investigate the surrounding circumstances, obtain a statement, or any combination thereof.
    2. To request or verify identification, or both.
    3. To inform a peace officer of the detention of that person, or surrender that person to the custody of a peace officer, or both.
    4. To inform a peace officer, the parent or parents, guardian or other private person interested in the welfare of a minor of the detention and to surrender the minor to the custody of that person.
    5. To institute criminal proceedings against the person.
  • Probable cause to suspect that a person has committed or is attempting to commit the offense of theft may be based on, but not limited to:
    1. Personal observation, including observation via closed circuit television or other visual device.
    2. Report of personal observation from another merchant.
    3. Activation of an electronic or other type of mechanical device designed to detect theft.
    4. Personal observation of dressing rooms, including observation via closed circuit television, two-way mirrors, or other visual devices, shall be limited to observation by a person of the same sex as the person being observed. No observation shall be lawful unless notices are posted in the dressing rooms that monitoring may occur.
  • A merchant, a merchant’s employee or agent, or a peace officer who detains, questions or causes the arrest of any person suspected of theft shall not be criminally or civilly liable for any legal action relating to the detention, questioning or arrest if the merchant, merchant’s employee or agent, or peace officer:
    1. Has reasonable grounds to suspect that the person has committed or is attempting to commit theft.
    2. Acts in a reasonable manner under the circumstances.
    3. Detains the suspected person for a reasonable period of time.
  • The merchant may use a reasonable amount of force necessary to protect the merchant, to prevent escape of the person detained, or to prevent the loss or destruction of property.
  • A reasonable period of time, for the purposes of this section, is a period of time long enough to accomplish the purpose set forth in this section, and shall include any time spent awaiting the arrival of a law enforcement officer or the parents or guardian of a juvenile suspect, if the merchant or the merchant’s employee or agent has summoned a law enforcement officer, the parents or a guardian.

If you have been illegally detained or think you may have been a victim of False Imprisonment it is important that you contact a licensed Tennessee Attorney. Visit the law offices of Baker Associates because we are here to help protect your rights.