Citizens Arrest for Shoplifting

By now, you’ve probably heard all about the ever-growing wave of property theft throughout the US. As retailers shutter stores in areas that refuse to prosecute shoplifters, Arizona doubles down on its claim to being the last true heart of the wild west with this week’s passage of SB1613, which amends the current citizens arrest laws. That’s right - starting soon, you may be the one to, as McGruff so eloquently said, help take a bite out of crime.

Under the current law, a citizen's arrest can take place in Arizona under a number of circumstances, but cannot take place during a theft unless that theft is a felony - meaning a financial loss of more than $2,000. If the person in front of you pockets a pack of gum at the grocery store? Nothing you -or a store security guard- can do. But if the person in front of you decides to try and self-checkout a new flat screen TV as a bunch of bananas? You’re well within your right to hold the person by whatever means necessary until the proper authorities can intervene.

Under the rewritten SB1613, the threshold for conducting a citizen’s arrest during a theft is lowered to misdemeanor crimes -meaning a loss of any amount. If and when SB1613 passes the House, you can get that would-be gum-grabber if you so choose! Bill sponsor Justine Wadsack claims that this bill is for everybody, most importantly for mom-and-pop shops who are seeing losses happen and who don’t benefit from the same business insurance protection of your major brand stores. SB1613 puts the power in your hands to protect local businesses with more than just your dollar.

Obviously, there are drawbacks to this. You are, very likely, not the proper authorities, and as such you take a certifiable risk into your own hands by conducting a citizen’s arrest. There’s nothing in the language of the current law or the SB1613 rewrite that guarantees you any level of safety in choosing to conduct a citizen’s arrest. While the intention behind SB1613 is to allow private security guards more power in stopping lower-tier shoplifters, it opens the floodgates for anyone to become a vigilante - and I’m sure there will be plenty of additional bills passed afterward to make up for the “unforeseen” consequences of this one.

Until it passes, though, SB1613 remains only a possibility, so don’t go out buying yourself a cowboy hat and handcuffs just yet. If you should find yourself on the wrong end of a citizen’s arrest either direction, we here at Palestini Law are ready and willing to take your case - we’ve been allowed to take the law into our own hands a lot longer than you have.

JAMES P. PALESTINI

Originally from Toronto, Canada, James Palestini relocated to Arizona where he received his Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Studies with a minor in Criminology from Arizona State University. James then attended law school at Phoenix School of Law where he earned a Juris Doctorate degree. While pursuing his doctorate, James interned at a criminal defense firm in Scottsdale, Arizona. James handled a multitude of criminal cases there, including felony, misdemeanor and criminal traffic matters.