Can Store Employees Assault Shoplifters in Georgia?

Whether you are an employee or an alleged shoplifter, accusations of theft can quickly spiral into violent incidents. But is this even legal? Are store employees allowed to detain or assault shoplifters in Georgia? What are your rights as a shoplifter in Georgia, and how can you defend yourself against allegations of theft? What if you face assault charges because you tried to stop a shoplifter in Georgia? Due to the rise in organized shoplifting throughout the state, these questions have become common. 

Georgia Employees May Face Consequences for Confronting Shoplifters

Georgia overhauled its citizen arrest laws in 2021, creating a new “shopkeeper’s privilege” doctrine. Under this law, employees and store owners can detain offenders if they have probable cause to believe that theft is taking place. However, confronting and detaining shoplifters may still result in serious legal consequences. The so-called “shopkeeper’s defense” is only reliable if three elements are present:

  • Reasonable suspicion
  • Reasonable time of detention
  • Reasonable manner of detention

The definition of all of these elements may be highly subjective, but it is clear that shopkeepers cannot use unreasonable force. They are also prohibited from doing things like locking shoplifters in rooms for hours until calling the police. 

Ultimately, it might be better to avoid any effort to confront shoplifters and simply call the police instead. Even if employees do not face legal consequences for these actions, they may still lose their jobs due to store policies. For example, two Lululemon workers were famously fired for confronting shoplifters in Georgia. Although they did not face criminal charges, the company’s policy prohibited such actions. 

Self-Defense Against Shoplifters

That being said, verbally confronting shoplifters is perfectly acceptable. For example, a store owner might spot someone stealing items and warn them to stop. They might also warn the suspect that they are going to call the police. If the shoplifter reacts violently to this verbal confrontation, the shoplifter might be justified in defending themselves. Of course, they are still expected to use reasonable force equivalent to the actions of the aggressor. 

For example, a shoplifter might shove a store owner while running away. In this situation, it would not be reasonable for the shopkeeper to brandish a shotgun and shoot the fleeing shoplifter in the back. But if the shoplifter brandishes a firearm after being verbally confronted, this form of self-defense may be justifiable. Again, it is always advisable to avoid direct confrontations with shoplifters if possible. Calling the police is by far the safest decision in this situation. 

Get in Touch With a Qualified Defense Attorney in Georgia

If you are facing charges related to shoplifting, it makes sense to get in touch with a Georgia defense attorney at your earliest convenience. While shoplifting can be a serious offense in Georgia, there’s no reason to accept needlessly excessive penalties. The same logic applies to employees who face charges for confronting shoplifters. Book your consultation today and get started with an effective defense strategy. 


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Mahatma Gandhi

Lankford & Moore Law in Downtown Lawrenceville

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