I'm being charged for felony theft. Did not have contents on me, but found in my trunk. Did security have right to search car?

Asked about 4 years ago - Houston, TX

I'm being charged for felony theft of <$200. Did not have contents on me, but were placed in my trunk by 5/6yr old.
After placing my shopping bag in trunk and closing it, the security officers (4 men) ran at me (scaring to a scream, myself and my boys), they demanded me to open my trunk, took my purse off my shoulder, searched my trunk, etc.
Due to none of them being police (just security, not identifying themselves), me NOT having any of the stores merchandise on my self or within any of my bags, were they legally allowed to do this search of me, my vehicle, etc?

Attorney answers (3)

  1. Cynthia Russell Henley

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . The biggest problem you face when attempting to claim an illegal search is that these people were not police. They are not held to the same standard as police thus if they did something illegal, that will generally not cause the arrest to be invalid.

    That said, even a police officer (so a security guard) can "scare" you into giving consent to search. There does not seem to be a search issue.

    If your son took the merchandise without your knowledge or help, then you are not guilty of the offense - even if the items were in your trunk. You must have been aware of the theft to be a party to it. (If you took it and gave it to your son to place in the trunk, then you are guilty and have arguably made your son a party to the theft, although they would not prosecute him.)

  2. Jeffrey Carl Brashear

    Contributor Level 11

    Answered . Based on what you have written, there are multiple additional facts which would need to be discussed more fully to be able to provide you a response. Basically, when a loss prevention officer at a store has reasonable belief that you (or a minor under your custody) has taken something without paying for it, they may inquire. As for whether or not they handled themselves appropriately, that would be a question for the fact finder to determine (e.g., judge or jury). Additionally, where exactly was your vehicle parked, what did they find and where did they find it? These are just some of the question to ask yourself.

  3. Cynthia Russell Henley

    Contributor Level 20

    Answered . The biggest problem you face when attempting to claim an illegal search is that these people were not police. They are not held to the same standard as police thus if they did something illegal, that will generally not cause the arrest to be invalid.

    That said, even a police officer (so a security guard) can "scare" you into giving consent to search. There does not seem to be a search issue.

    If your son took the merchandise without your knowledge or help, then you are not guilty of the offense - even if the items were in your trunk. You must have been aware of the theft to be a party to it. (If you took it and gave it to your son to place in the trunk, then you are guilty and have arguably made your son a party to the theft, although they would not prosecute him.)

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