Is it legal for a department store to order me to empty the contents of my purse if they suspect me of stealing? PC 484

By: Wallin & Klarich

The answer is YES.

If you decide to shop in a department store and the store security personnel believe you have stolen an item from their store they have the right to stop and detain you when you attempt to leave the store.


At the time they stop you they often will have you go into a private room where you will be questioned. If security officers believe that you have stolen and item and hidden it in your purse they can demand you empty your belongings. If you refuse, they can call law enforcement and have them come to continue the questioning.

Members of law enforcement must have “probable cause” in order to search your purse. However, probable cause can consist of statements made by a store employee that they saw you place a store item in your purse without paying for it.

If in fact you did not steal the item then it normally is wise to cooperate and allow them to examine the contents of your purse.

On the other hand if you did steal something in the store you should REFUSE to speak to security personnel from the store or the police. Any statements you make to store employees can be used against you in a court of law.

The prosecutor must prove in order to convict you of “theft” that you had the specific intent to steal the item at the time you may have placed it in your purse. Specific intent can only come from the “circumstantial evidence surrounding the facts of your case or from your statements to the police or store security. DO NOT SPEAK TO EITHER OF THEM, other than to identify yourself. Tell him you do not wish to answer any questions until your law is present.

This is the best advise possible
If you or your loved one is charged with a theft offense under penal code 484 you must call Wallin & Klarich for a free consultation. 888-280-6839. With offices Ventura, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange County, we will be there when you call. Visit us at

Posted In: Theft