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- "Whether a shopper's concealing merchandise inside her purse in a shopping cart gives rise to probable cause to arrest her for theft?"
- "Whether a Suspect's innocent but unverifiable explanation for otherwise highly suspicious conduct negates probable cause? In particular, whether a shopper's claim that she intended to pay for items concealed in her purse while shopping negates probable cause to arrest her for theft?"
A Dollar General employee summoned police after observing Ford put merchandise in her purse. When the officer confronted Ford in the store, she admitted putting items in her purse but said she was still shopping and would pay before leaving. The officer grabbed Ford's purse, searched it, and discovered methamphetamine. The trial court granted Ford's suppression motion. It concluded that the officer lacked probable cause because Ford had not passed the check-out area when the search was conducted.
The court of appeals affirmed. It concluded that the interaction between Ford and the officer was a non-consensual, investigative detention and that the officer lacked probable cause to believe Ford attempted to appropriate merchandise with the intent to deprive.
The State asserts that Ford's concealment shows she intended not to pay. Customers, the State suggests, have a limited right to control property while shopping and that right is negated by the malicious intent to steal. Additionally, the arrest was lawful because Ford's conduct amounted to more than "mere preparation." A customer should not be able to erase probable cause by providing an innocent explanation when confronted. The court of appeals' decision would allow every shoplifter who is caught (even outside the store) to feign forgetfulness to avoid arrest.