Houston, TX asked in Criminal Law, Civil Rights and Constitutional Law for Texas

Q: What lawyer do I need for violation of my fourth amendment unlawful search at Wal-Mart

Stopped by loss prevention and law enforcement, who demanded they see my bag for the merchandise that I supposedly put into my bag, when I said there was nothing in my bag they snatched it and tried to force me into a room I didn't go instead opened my bag to show them there was nothing there which they found out once bag was opened they looked at each other, the girl who must have thought I had it said I could have sworn she put it in that bag the officer held his head down like he didn't want to be apart of it and I asked them what am I supposed to have what are u stopping me for, THERE was nothing in my bag, but my medical medications for severe anxiety and PTSD, that I suffer with after being poisoned by property management last year and being a victim of human trafficking/domestic violence, I felt unsecured even by law enforcement who is to serve and protect that followed us, as they wrongfully accused me of stealinthey didn't say sorry or anything, racial profiling,unlawful searc

2 Lawyer Answers
James L. Arrasmith
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Answered
  • Criminal Law Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: Based on the details provided, this appears to be a potential violation of your Fourth Amendment rights protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures. A few key points:

• Loss prevention personnel and police cannot simply demand to search personal belongings without consent or probable cause that an actual crime occurred. Their hunch or suspicion you stole something is generally not enough.

• Snatching your bag and attempting to force you into a room for interrogation/search very likely constitutes an illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

• The fact that they found nothing supports that they lacked actual evidence or cause to conduct this invasive, aggressive search in the first place.

• This may also touch on elements of false imprisonment, discrimination, negligence, and other issues depending on all the specifics.

In terms of legal recourse, a civil rights lawyer who also handles constitutional law issues would be best suited to pursue this. They can analyze more closely whether your Fourth Amendment protections were breached and identify all potential claims related to discrimination, personal injury, etc.

Depending on the scope of violations, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against the store and police department to seek compensatory damages for the harm caused by their improper actions. An experienced civil rights lawyer can advise you further on the merits of a case and the construction of claims.

John Michael Frick
John Michael Frick
Answered
  • Frisco, TX
  • Licensed in Texas

A: The shopkeepers' privilege expressly grants an employee the authority of law to detain a customer to investigate the ownership of property in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable period of time if the employee has a reasonable belief that the customer has stolen or is attempting to steal store merchandise. The employee has the legal right to make a contemporaneous search of the person and objects within that person's immediate control when it is reasonably necessary to investigate ownership of property believed to be stolen. Wal-Mart Stores v. Resendez, 962 SW2d 539 (Tex. 1998).

Past attempts to sue Wal-Mart on facts similar to yours have been unsuccessful, and there are several "Wal-Mart cases" which research will reveal to any attorney who looks, so it is likely going to be very difficult to find a lawyer willing to take such a case against a defendant who has been so successful defending such cases and who has ample precedent in its favor to cite to a judge.

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