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Shoplifting and North Carolina’s concealment of merchandise law

On Behalf of | Dec 22, 2022 | Criminal Defense |

This time of year, you can bet that employees and security guards in stores of all kinds are on the lookout for shoplifters. With shelves and racks stocked for the holidays, it can be tempting for someone to pocket a small item or stuff a larger one in a bag or under a heavy coat. 

While North Carolina doesn’t have a law that specifically refers to “shoplifting,” many types are covered under the “concealment of merchandise” law. The law states that anyone who “willfully conceals the goods or merchandise of any store, not theretofore purchased by such person, while still upon the premises of such store, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor….”

Walking out of a store with hidden merchandise that hasn’t been paid for isn’t the only activity that qualifies as a crime under this law. Some shoplifters try to get a significant discount for themselves by switching or altering price tags. The states that a person who “willfully transfers any price tag from goods or merchandise to other goods or merchandise having a higher selling price or marks said goods at a lower price…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor….”

Who has the right to detain you?

Some people think that even if an employee of a store believes they have shoplifted, they have no right to keep them from leaving. However, the law protects any employee or security guard from civil liability if that person “detains or causes the arrest of any person” as long as “such detention is upon the premises of the store or in a reasonable proximity thereto, is in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time, and…[they had] probable cause to believe that the person committed the offense created by this section.” If the person they’re detaining is under 18, they’re required to make a “reasonable effort” to notify a parent or guardian.

If you or a loved one is being detained for suspected shoplifting, it’s always wise not to make matters worse by getting belligerent or violent. That may only lead to even more serious charges. 

It is important, however, to seek legal guidance as soon as possible. With cameras virtually everywhere these days, the truth will likely be determined soon enough. In the meantime, it’s important to protect your rights.