A Maine native was recently arrested for shoplifting in New Jersey. The details of his arrest highlight an important issue with Maine’s shoplifting law: even empty accusations of shoplifting can quickly turn into criminal charges when police search you for evidence of a crime.
The arrest happened back in July 2019, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey.
Fair Lawn police received a call from a local CVS about a suspected shoplifter. When they found the suspect, a 26-year-old from Clinton, Maine, they searched his backpack and found $306 in unpaid merchandise from the CVS as well as several hypodermic needles.
The incident highlights one of the most important and frustrating things about shoplifting allegations: when a store accuses you of shoplifting, it can be almost impossible to avoid a police search for evidence.
Police rely on store owners or clerks to report the vast majority of shoplifting incidents. When those reports are made and police identify the suspect – whether using the clerk’s description or with the clerk’s active help and identification – the police will detain the person who is accused of shoplifting.
These detentions are not quite arrests. Instead, they are interactions between police and members of the public that are designed to obtain evidence.
If you are the one detained on suspicion of shoplifting, you can count on police asking to search your bag, backpack, or even your pockets for the merchandise that was allegedly taken.
If you don’t comply, police will usually make an arrest anyway: they often think that the clerk’s tip, description, or identification is enough to constitute the probable cause they need to make an arrest.
Once you have been arrested, police are legally allowed to search you. This is known as a search incident to an arrest. It is supposedly designed to protect police officers by allowing them to pat you down and search for a weapon that you could, in theory, use to hurt them.
In reality, though, police use a search incident to arrest to find incriminating evidence.
This chain of events is exactly what happened in this particular case. The CVS clerk called the police to report a suspected shoplifter. Police detained someone that matched the description from the clerk’s tip. Whether the suspect consented to the subsequent search or whether the police made an arrest and then conducted a search incident to that arrest, the result was the same: they found evidence of another crime in addition to the shoplifting offense. In this case, they found hypodermic needles which could be used to file another criminal charge.
If you have been arrested in Portland, Biddeford, Saco, or the surrounding area and have been accused of shoplifting, you need legal help. Call the criminal defense lawyers at Maine Criminal Defense Group at (207) 571-8146 or contact us online.
If you are facing criminal charges in Maine, the attorneys at The Maine Criminal Defense Group are here to help. Call our office to speak with
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