In Florida, the police cannot just arrest any person he/she has probable cause to believe has committed a crime. A police officer does not need an arrest warrant signed by a judge to arrest a person for a felony charge or a misdemeanor that has occurred in his/her or another police officer’s presence. However, a police officer cannot always arrest a person for a allegedly committing a misdemeanor crime that he/she or another officer did not see unless a judge has signed an arrest warrant. One exception is shoplifting or retail theft cases. Most shoplifting/retail theft cases occur in a store where a loss prevention officer or other store employee sees the theft or observes the suspect trying to leave the store without paying for an item(s). The loss prevention officer normally detains the suspect until the police arrive. Although the police officer was not present when the shoplifting crime allegedly occurred, the police officer is allowed to rely on the store employee’s statement and any other evidence (such as a store video) to make an arrest without first getting an arrest warrant. On the contrary, if a witness approached a police officer and said a suspect was in possession of a small amount of marijuana (less than 20 grams of marijuana) and even showed the police officer recent incriminating pictures, the police officer could not arrest the suspect without an arrest warrant if the officer did not observe the marijuana.
In a recent shoplifting case near Jacksonville, Florida, a loss prevention officer at a department store observed the suspect select some items and leave the store without paying for them. The loss prevention officer, who is not a police officer, called the police and gave a description of the suspect and his vehicle to the police officer. The police officer stopped the suspect and arrested him for shoplifting. While searching the vehicle for the stolen items, the police officer found methamphetamine. The suspect was arrested for petit theft (a misdemeanor) and possession of methamphetamine (a felony).
The criminal defense lawyer moved to dismiss the charges arguing that the police officer could not stop and arrest the defendant for a misdemeanor charge outside of the police officer’s presence. However, Florida law has a specific exception to this rule for shoplifting. Since the police officer could stop the suspect for the shoplifting charge and had a right to search for the stolen items, the shoplifting charge and the methamphetamine possession charge were both valid.