Updated April 6, 2020
NRS 597.850 is the Nevada law that gives merchants the shopkeeper’s privilege. This privilege allows store owners and workers to lawfully detain suspected shoplifters in a reasonable manner. Merchants can also use the shopkeeper’s privilege as a defense to certain civil claims and criminal charges, including false imprisonment (NRS 200.460) and unlawful citizen’s arrest (NRS 171.126).
The statute states:
Any merchant who has reason to believe that merchandise has been wrongfully taken by a person … may, for the purpose of attempting to effect such recovery or for the purpose of informing a peace officer of the circumstances of such detention, take the person into custody and detain the person, on the premises, in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is the shopkeeper’s privilege in Nevada?
- 2. Can merchants use force under NRS 597.850?
- 3. Where can merchants detain suspects? And for how long?
- 4. What if the suspect did not shoplift anything?
Under NRS 597.850, merchants can lawfully detain suspected shoplifters. The purpose of this detention is to try to recover the stolen items. Merchants can also call the police to cite or arrest the suspects.
In order to lawfully detain people, merchants must have reason to believe they shoplifted. Nevada law presumes merchants have this “reason to believe” if they observed the suspect concealing merchandise while on the premises.
Example: Kim is a cashier at a Staples in Las Vegas. She sees a teen boy slip a flash drive in his pocket. Kim blocks the boy from leaving and demands the drive back. When the boy denies it, she calls the police. Kim has security wait with him in the store until the officer arrives.
Here, Kim did nothing illegal by detaining the boy. She had reason to believe he stole by witnessing him hide the flash drive. She lawfully exercised her shopkeeper’s privilege.
In the above example, it does not matter that Kim is an employee and not the owner. The shopkeeper’s privilege extends to a store’s:
- Officers of owners or operators,
- Employees, and
Normally, restricting someone’s freedom of movement is illegal. Prosecutors could bring criminal charges. And the victim could sue. But the shopkeeper’s privilege provides an exception. Specifically, the shopkeeper’s privilege is a defense against the following four crimes and causes of action:
- False arrest,
- False imprisonment,
- Slander, or
- Unlawful detention
Note that merchants are required to conspicuously display the following notice in bold on the premises. Otherwise, they may not claim shopkeeper’s privilege as a defense:
Any merchant or his or her agent who has reason to believe that merchandise has been wrongfully taken by a person may detain such person on the premises of the merchant for the purpose of recovering the property or notifying a peace officer. An adult or the parents or legal guardian of a minor, who steals merchandise is civilly liable for its value and additional damages. NRS 597.850, 597.860 and 597.870.
In short, shoplifting suspects cannot successfully press criminal or civil charges against merchants for detaining them as long as:
- The merchants had reason to believe they stole;
- The detainment was reasonable; and
- The merchant posted the above notice1
The statute does not mention force. The statute says shopkeepers can attempt to recover stolen items. But it does not say how.
However, the statute does say that shopkeeper’s privilege is a defense against “false arrest.” And arrests nearly always involve using force. Such as holding someone down while waiting for the police to arrive.
Still, it is recommended that merchants try reasoning with suspects to turn over the merchandise. If that does not work, merchants should then phone the police. Merchants should try to use as little force as possible – if any – to detain the suspect until the police arrive.
The shopkeeper’s privilege is not a defense to battery (NRS 200.481) charges. So if merchants cross the line by being too rough, they could face criminal charges as well as a civil lawsuit.2
NRS 597.850 instructs shopkeepers to detain suspects on the premises. The statute defines premises as:
any establishment or part thereof wherein merchandise is displayed, held or offered for sale.
Presumably this includes a store’s showroom, storage rooms, and back offices. Therefore, merchants may not take suspects offsite to detain them.
The statute also instructs shopkeepers to detain suspects for a reasonable length of time. This is how long it takes to recover the stolen items and/or wait for the police to arrive. So the exact length depends on the circumstances.3
Sometimes merchants get it wrong and detain innocent people. But they remain immune to civil and criminal liability if both:
- The merchants had reason to believe someone stole, and
- The merchants detained the suspect in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time
Example: Sarah is at a Henderson CVS browsing in the makeup section. Then Sarah takes out her own lipstick from her purse and reapplies it using the store makeup mirror. All the cashier sees is Sarah applying lipstick and putting it in her purse. The cashier does not realize it belongs to Sarah. The cashier then detains Sarah and calls the police.
Sarah explains that the lipstick belongs to her. Sarah takes it out and shows that it has been well-used. The cashier inspects the lipstick and realizes he made a mistake. Then he lets Sarah go and calls the police to tell them it was a false alarm.
Here, the cashier broke no law. He genuinely thought Sarah stole by witnessing her put a lipstick into her purse in the cosmetic section. And as soon as he realized his mistake, he let Sarah go.
In short, merchants must behave reasonably. As long as they act on good faith suspicion and detain suspects no longer than necessary, they should avoid prosecution.4
Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney…
Arrested in Nevada? Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys. We fight to get your charges reduced or dismissed.
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In California? See our article about California’s shopkeeper’s privilege.
- NRS 597.850; Lerner Shops v. Marin, 83 Nev. 75, 423 P.2d 398 (1967).