If you have been arrested – wrongfully – for shoplifting, can you sue the police department? The store that caused your arrest?
In some cases, you may have a wrongful arrest lawsuit if you were charged with shoplifting without probable cause. Below, we will go over the basics of wrongful arrest lawsuits for shoplifting in SC, including:
- The elements of shoplifting charges in SC,
- Common defenses to shoplifting charges,
- Wrongful arrest lawsuits against the police, and
- Wrongful arrest lawsuits against the store.
What is Shoplifting in SC?
When do you have a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the store or the police? First, your criminal charges must be dismissed, or you must be acquitted at trial, and second, you must have been arrested without probable cause.
What is probable cause for a shoplifting arrest?
Most people understand that, if they pick up an item in a store, hide it in their pocket, a purse, or a backpack, and then leave the store without paying, they can be arrested and charged with shoplifting.
Many people do not understand that you can be charged with shoplifting even if you do not leave the store with the merchandise.
Under SC Code § 16-13-110, you can be charged with shoplifting if you:
- Take possession of,
- Carry away,
- Transfer from one person to another,
- Transfer from one area of a store to another, or
- Cause to be transferred or carried away any merchandise in a store, or
- Alter, transfer, or remove any label or price tag and attempt to purchase the item at less than the full retail value, or
- Transfer any merchandise to a different container with the intent to deprive the merchant of the full retail value.
You must also have had the intent to steal the merchandise, but, under SC Code § 16-13-120, it can be inferred that you intended to shoplift if you willfully conceal merchandise on your person, in your belongings, or on someone else’s person or belongings – even if you do not leave the store with the items.
Defenses to Shoplifting Charges in SC
The most obvious defense to shoplifting charges is that you did not intend to steal the merchandise – retail stores get it wrong all the time, and they often err on the side of stopping a person and calling the police…
For example, although there may be an inference that you intended to steal an item because you concealed it, it is a rebuttable inference, and you have the opportunity to prove at trial that you did not intend to steal the item and that the store made a mistake.
We have seen cases where a person was stopped, searched, and arrested because:
- They placed items into a pocketbook in their shopping cart but intended to pay for the items,
- They placed items into a grocery bag but forgot to pay for them,
- They paid for some items but the store clerk missed others,
- They walked past the registers to get a shopping cart from the front of the store,
- They suffered from dementia or mental illness and forgot to pay for an item,
- A friend or spouse shoplifted an item without their knowledge, or
- They refused to stop and show their receipt to a loss prevention employee despite having paid for their merchandise.
In other cases, shoplifting charges may be dismissed because the store refused to provide a copy of the store’s video surveillance to the defense, because the prosecutor did not provide evidence pursuant to Rule 5 or Brady, or because the state’s witnesses did not appear for trial.
If your case is dismissed due to a technical violation like a key witness’s absence (and that witness’s testimony would have proven your guilt), you are fortunate, but you probably do not have a civil lawsuit against the store or the police.
When you were arrested and charged with shoplifting without probable cause, however, you may have a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the store, the police, or both.
Wrongful Arrests for Shoplifting in SC
If you were wrongfully arrested for shoplifting, and if your charges have been dismissed or you have been acquitted at trial, you may have a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the store that caused your arrest, the police department that arrested you, or both.
Note that, if your case is dismissed or if you are acquitted, you don’t automatically have a civil rights lawsuit. Whether you have a civil case will depend on multiple considerations like whether there was probable cause for the arrest and whether the officer was entitled to qualified immunity.
Wrongful Arrest Lawsuits Against the Police
If you are arrested without probable cause – for example, because the responding officer took the store employee’s word for it and did not bother to review video surveillance or corroborate their claims, you may have a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the police department that made the arrest.
Depending on the facts of your case and your attorney’s strategy in filing your case, you may file claims under the SC State Tort Claims Act (state court claims, damages caps, and no punitive damages) or 42 USC § 1983 (federal court claims, longer statute of limitations, no damages caps, punitive damages are available) for violation of your civil rights.
Wrongful Arrest Lawsuits Against the Store
You may also have a wrongful arrest lawsuit against the store that caused your arrest with causes of action for negligence, wrongful arrest, false imprisonment, defamation, assault and battery, or other claims based on the facts of your case.
Because your lawsuit against the store is not against a governmental entity, you are entitled to recover full and fair damages for the harm that they caused you, and you are not limited by the State Tort Claims Act or a § 1983 action.
Questions About Wrongful Arrests for Shoplifting?
If you were wrongfully arrested for shoplifting, the Charleston, SC civil rights attorneys at the Boles Law Firm can help you to determine liability, gather the evidence you will need in court, negotiate with the government or insurance companies, and recover the maximum compensation that you are entitled to under state or federal law for your injuries.
Call us at 843-576-5775 to schedule an appointment for a free consultation at our North Charleston or Walterboro offices or send us a message through our website.