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New Jersey Code 2C:20-14 – Detention on Probable Cause

Section 2C:20-14 of the New Jersey Code allows law enforcement to detain someone when they have probable cause to believe the person has unlawfully taken merchandise from a store. This section outlines the specific circumstances under which such detention is permitted.

The law states that a law enforcement officer, merchant, or merchant’s employee can detain someone for questioning on store property if they have probable cause to believe the person has unlawfully taken merchandise. Probable cause may be based on recognizing the person from security video, witness statements, sensor alarms, or other evidence.

However, the detention must follow certain guidelines. The person can only be detained in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time to investigate. Use of excessive force is prohibited. The store must also display signage informing patrons of the possibility of detention if there is probable cause to suspect shoplifting.

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During detention, the officer or merchant may request identification and inquire about the circumstances around the suspected theft. They may also recover merchandise and make a computerized record of the person’s name. However, formal arrest and transport to a police station requires greater evidence.

There are legal defenses if a person feels they were unlawfully detained. For example, if there was no real probable cause for suspicion. Or if the detention involved unnecessary force or went beyond a reasonable time period. A person could potentially sue for false imprisonment.

On the other hand, advocates argue these laws help retailers prevent theft and loss. And give law enforcement a tool to question potential suspects based on objective evidence. But critics say it opens the door to racial profiling or detaining innocent people without due process.

In summary, this New Jersey law allows temporary detention in stores based on probable cause of theft. But there are restrictions to protect civil liberties. The full implications continue to be debated.

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