NC Statutes/Receipt Check

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In North Carolina, and other states, it has become common place for retail stores to request, or demand, a receipt check before allowing the customer to leave the premise. After performing my research, I've found that this is illegal unless the store has probable cause to believe that the person committed the offense before they ask for the receipt.

The exceptions to this are:

  1. when you sign a membership agreement, like with Costco or Sams club, which both have verbiage in their membership agreement informing you that they may stop you and check your receipt upon leaving the premise. As this is an agreement that the customer agreed to, it is legal.
  2. In the absence of such an agreement, if the establishment has visible signage before entering the premise stating that by entering you agree to such searches or inspection, then they are allowed to stop and check your receipt upon leaving the premise. This constitutes an agreement you are entering in with the establishment by entering their premise.


Statute

Statute pertaining to Concealment of merchandise in mercantile establishments (closest NC has to "shopkeeper privilege").

§ 14-72.1.  Concealment of merchandise in mercantile establishments.
(a)        Whoever, without authority, willfully conceals the goods or merchandise of any store, not theretofore purchased by such person, while still upon the premises of such store, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished as provided in subsection (e). Such goods or merchandise found concealed upon or about the person and which have not theretofore been purchased by such person shall be prima facie evidence of a willful concealment.
(b)        Repealed by Session Laws 1985 (Regular Session, 1986), c. 841, s. 2.
(c)        A merchant, or the merchant's agent or employee, or a peace officer who detains or causes the arrest of any person shall not be held civilly liable for detention, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, or false arrest of the person detained or arrested, where such detention is upon the premises of the store or in a reasonable proximity thereto, is in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time, and, if in detaining or in causing the arrest of such person, the merchant, or the merchant's agent or employee, or the peace officer had at the time of the detention or arrest probable cause to believe that the person committed the offense created by this section. If the person being detained by the merchant, or the merchant's agent or employee, is a minor under the age of 18 years, the merchant or the merchant's agent or employee, shall call or notify, or make a reasonable effort to call or notify the parent or guardian of the minor, during the period of detention. A merchant, or the merchant's agent or employee, who makes a reasonable effort to call or notify the parent or guardian of the minor shall not be held civilly liable for failing to notify the parent or guardian of the minor.
(d)       Whoever, without authority, willfully transfers any price tag from goods or merchandise to other goods or merchandise having a higher selling price or marks said goods at a lower price or substitutes or superimposes thereon a false price tag and then presents said goods or merchandise for purchase shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, shall be punished as provided in subsection (e).
Nothing herein shall be construed to provide that the mere possession of goods or the production by shoppers of improperly priced merchandise for checkout shall constitute prima facie evidence of guilt.
(d1)     Notwithstanding subsection (e) of this section, any person who violates subsection (a) of this section by using a lead-lined or aluminum-lined bag, a lead-lined or aluminum-lined article of clothing, or a similar device to prevent the activation of any antishoplifting or inventory control device is guilty of a Class H felony.
(e)        Punishment. - For a first conviction under subsection (a) or (d), or for a subsequent conviction for which the punishment is not specified by this subsection, the defendant shall be guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor. The term of imprisonment may be suspended only on condition that the defendant perform community service for a term of at least 24 hours. For a second offense committed within three years after the date the defendant was convicted of an offense under this section, the defendant shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. The term of imprisonment may be suspended only on condition that the defendant be imprisoned for a term of at least 72 hours as a condition of special probation, perform community service for a term of at least 72 hours, or both. For a third or subsequent offense committed within five years after the date the defendant was convicted of two other offenses under this section, the defendant shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The term of imprisonment may be suspended only if a condition of special probation is imposed to require the defendant to serve a term of imprisonment of at least 11 days. However, if the sentencing judge finds that the defendant is unable, by reason of mental or physical infirmity, to perform the service required under this section, and the reasons for such findings are set forth in the judgment, the judge may pronounce such other sentence as the judge finds appropriate.
(f)        Repealed by Session Laws 2009-372, s. 12, effective December 1, 2009, and applicable to offenses committed on or after that date.
(g)        Limitations. - For active terms of imprisonment imposed under this section:
(1)        The judge may not give credit to the defendant for the first 24 hours of time spent in incarceration pending trial;
(2)        The defendant must serve the mandatory minimum period of imprisonment and good or gain time credit may not be used to reduce that mandatory minimum period; and
(3)        The defendant may not be released or paroled unless he is otherwise eligible and has served the mandatory minimum period of imprisonment.  (1957, c. 301; 1971, c. 238; 1973, c. 457, ss. 1, 2; 1985 (Reg. Sess., 1986), c. 841, ss. 1-3; 1987, c. 660; 1993, c. 539, s. 35; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 24, s. 14(c); c. 28, s. 1; 1995, c. 185, s. 3; c. 509, s. 9; 1997-80, s. 1; 1997-443, s. 19.25(ff); 2009-372, s. 12.)

The most important parts from this statute that pertain to the merchant's rights, and subsequently the customers, that I see are these:

  • if in detaining or in causing the arrest of such person, the merchant, or the merchant's agent or employee, or the peace officer had at the time of the detention or arrest probable cause to believe that the person committed the offense created by this section.
This means that the merchant must have had probable cause to stop you. This is very similar to the probable cause required for a LEO to perform a traffic stop, however the difference here is that the fourth amendment only applies to government agents, not store personnel.
“[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
What constitutes probable cause?
Probable cause generally exists when facts and circumstances that are known provide the basis for a reasonable person to believe that a crime was committed.
Essentially this means that the store personnel must have evidence outside of your refusal to provide proof of purchase, or receipt. Denying them the ability to see your receipt has occurred AFTER they requested it, so they must have probably cause prior to requesting the receipt.


  • A merchant, or the merchant's agent or employee, or a peace officer who detains or causes the arrest of any person shall not be held civilly liable for detention, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, or false arrest of the person detained or arrested, where such detention is upon the premises of the store or in a reasonable proximity thereto, is in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time, and, if in detaining or in causing the arrest of such person, the merchant, or the merchant's agent or employee, or the peace officer had at the time of the detention or arrest probable cause to believe that the person committed the offense created by this section.
This means that the store personnel CAN be held civilly liable for detention, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, or false arrest, IF they did NOT have probable cause at the time of detention.
What constitutes the time of detention?
The time of detention begins when store personnel asks you for your receipt.
This is especially important for store personnel because they are directly liable for their actions and can be civilly liable separate from their place of employment. Thus any legal fees, including defense lawyers which the store may not reimburse for, are the responsibility of the store personnel. It also means that if the defendant who was detained is found not guilty, that the store personnel could be individually charged with criminal offenses and arrested or fined, separate from their place of employment.

Punitive Damages

Defined in Chapter 1D-25 If a person is subjected to unlawful detention, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, or false arrest, they can be awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages can be up to:

  • three times the amount of compensatory damages
  • two hundred fifty thousand dollars ($250,000)

Punitive damage is defined (Chapter 1D-15) as when the defendant has been found to perform:

  • Fraud
  • Malice
  • Willful or wanton conduct



To store personnel, this means that unless you are 100% sure the person you are stopping or requesting a receipt check from has concealed merchandise, and you know this BEFORE you stop them, you can personally be held liable for the punitive damage awards listed above.

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