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The essential elements of the tort of false imprisonment are (a) the detention of a person against his or her will and (b) the unlawfulness of the detention.  See Walters v. J.C. Penney Co., 82 P.3d 578, 583 (Okla. 2003).  At common law, a merchant who detained another on a reasonable but mistaken belief that the person had stolen merchandise would have been subject to a claim of false imprisonment.  The Oklahoma Legislature modified the common-law rule by codifying a privilege for merchants who reasonably detain individuals suspected of shoplifting.

Title 22, section 1343 of the Oklahoma Statutes provides that any merchant, his agent or employee, who has reasonable grounds or probable cause to believe that a person has committed or is committing a wrongful taking of merchandise or money, may detain such person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time for all or any of the following purposes:

(a)  Conducting an investigation, including reasonable interrogation of the detained person, as to whether there has been a wrongful taking of such merchandise or money;

(b)  Informing the police or other law enforcement officials of the facts relevant to such detention;

(c)  Performing a reasonable search of the detained person and his belongings when it appears that the merchandise or money may otherwise be lost; and

(d)  Recovering the merchandise or money believed to have been taken wrongfully. Any such reasonable detention shall not constitute an unlawful arrest or detention, nor shall it render the merchant, his agent or employee criminally or civilly liable to the person so detained.

In sum, there are 3 basic components to the shopkeeper’s privilege:  (1) a reasonable belief that a person has stolen or is attempting to steal; (2) detention for a reasonable time; and (3) detention in a reasonable manner.  Under title 22, section 1344 of the Oklahoma Statutes, the first component is presumed if a shopkeeper detains a person in possession of concealed, unpurchased merchandise.

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