Last Wednesday, a 28 year-old, pregnant mother, Nicole Leszczynski, and her husband, Marcin, were arrested at a Safeway store in Honolulu for shoplifting when they forgot to pay for two sandwiches they ate while shopping. To make matters even worse, because their 2 year-old daughter was with the couple when the incident occurred, she was taken away from her family and into state custody. The Leszcynski family had only recently moved to Hawaii from California when the now nationally publicized incident occurred. Nicole and Marcin were handcuffed, taken to the police station and released only after paying their bail and being held for several hours.
See the AP/Yahoo News story HERE.
In California, and in Hawaii, the crime of theft or shoplifting requires that the actor intend to permanently deprive the owner of their property. In the case above, assuming that the Leszczynskis intended to pay for the sandwiches but simply forgot the wrappers in the cart at the check-out line, there was no crime. In that scenario, their intent was not to deprive Safeway of their property. Their actions in eating the sandwiches openly while shopping would seem to suggest they were not intending to conceal a crime. Instead, their condcut would be consistent with an honest mistake, a lapse of memory. Under the law, generally there must be a nexus between the act required to commit a crime and the intent to do so.
While it would appear there may not have been a crime committed, the store security involved in the Leszczynskis' apprehension was likely entitled under the law to detain the couple. However, under the law in Hawaii, just like California, the store owner or their agent is only permitted to detain someone for a reasonable length of time to conduct an investigation, the so-called "merchant's privilege.". Once it is determined no crime has been committed, however, the person or persons detained should not be formally arrested and charged with a crime. In California, if the store agent goes beyond the limits of the merchant's privilege and prosecutes a patron unlawfully, the store can be held liable for false arrest and perhaps a host of other civil wrongs.
Compensation for the victims of store security misconduct should be an important concern for all Californians. When an innocent patron is apprehended and then arrested by security, without adequate cause, the retailer should be held accountable and compensation paid to the victim. An Orange County false arrest attorney with experience at handling such cases can make a fair assessment of these claims. Mr. Ralph has more than 20 years of experience handling personal injury cases, including just this type. He can be reached at 714-919-4415 for a FREE CONSULTATION.
Have you been a victim of an unlawful arrrest or detention by store security?
Nothing in this post is intended to suggest the Law Offices of Paul W. Ralph currently represents anyone involved in the news story above. This posting should not be construed as legal advice or an opinion on the merit of any particular matter. A consultation is the best way to obtain an assessment of your potential case.