The article below includes an incredible video that shows Stephanie Moreland stuffing a $6500 fur coat from Alaskan Fur Company into her underwear on New Year’s Eve. What is remarkable is that she was able to conceal the coat in her underwear for three days before turning it over. The police failed to discover the coat during her processing.
The case is a classic shoplifting case where an employee stops Moreland due to her suspicious behavior. As we discuss in class, such stops are governed by the tort of false imprisonment. Under the common law, a shopkeeper is limited in the time, place, and manner of such encounters. Minnesota has a classic shoplifter’s privilege law:
Minn. Stat. § 629.366 (2010)
629.366 THEFT IN BUSINESS ESTABLISHMENTS; DETAINING SUSPECTS
Subdivision 1. Circumstances justifying detention.
(a) A merchant or merchant’s employee may detain a person if the merchant or employee has reasonable cause to believe:
(1) that the person has taken, or is taking, an article of value without paying for it, from the possession of the merchant in the merchant’s place of business or from a vehicle or premises under the merchant’s control;
(2) that the taking is done with the intent to wrongfully deprive the merchant of the property or the use or benefit of it; or
(3) that the taking is done with the intent to appropriate the use of the property to the taker or any other person.
(b) Subject to the limitations in paragraph (a), a merchant or merchant’s employee may detain a person for any of the following purposes:
(1) to require the person to provide identification or verify identification;
(2) to inquire as to whether the person possesses unpurchased merchandise taken from the merchant and, if so, to receive the merchandise;
(3) to inform a peace officer; or
(4) to institute criminal proceedings against the person.
(c) The person detained shall be informed promptly of the purpose of the detention and may not be subjected to unnecessary or unreasonable force, nor to interrogation against the person’s will. A merchant or merchant’s employee may not detain a person for more than one hour unless:
(1) the merchant or employee is waiting to surrender the person to a peace officer, in which case the person may be detained until a peace officer has accepted custody of or released the person; or
(2) the person is a minor, or claims to be, and the merchant or employee is waiting to surrender the minor to a peace officer or the minor’s parent, guardian, or custodian, in which case the minor may be detained until the peace officer, parent, guardian, or custodian has accepted custody of the minor.
(d) If at any time the person detained requests that a peace officer be summoned, the merchant or merchant’s employee must notify a peace officer immediately.
Subd. 2. Arrest.
Upon a charge being made by a merchant or merchant’s employee, a peace officer may arrest a person without a warrant, if the officer has reasonable cause for believing that the person has committed or attempted to commit the offense described in subdivision 1.
Subd. 3. Immunity.
No merchant, merchant’s employee, or peace officer is criminally or civilly liable for any action authorized under subdivision 1 or 2 if the arresting person’s action is based upon reasonable cause.
In this case, police say that Moreland “modified her underwear and had it stuffed down the front of it but from the rear it didn’t appear she had anything.” Under the privilege, a shopkeeper is not allowed to do a bodily search but must call the police. However, the police are allowed generally to do a patdown and, in some circumstances, a strip search after arrest.
It is astonishing to see this type of hidden contraband in a jail and makes one wonder about security levels in keeping out drugs and weapons.