My question involves criminal law for the state of: Florida
Age: 16 (my son)
Boy who admitted concealing items: age 16
Third boy: age 15
My 16-year old son and his two friends (one is 15, the other is 16) visited Best Buy. My son and his 15-year old friend were playing the keyboards. Unknown to them, their 16-year old friend concealed some guitar strings in his jacket pocket. After a few minutes, the one who concealed the guitar strings told my son and the third boy it was time to go (he had his cell phone and my son's cell was not working - my son relied on him for the time). When they got to about the middle of the store, all three boys were stopped by security and told video surveillance indicated they were shoplifting.
The boy who concealed the guitar strings (valued well below the $300 Florida Statute amount for beyond a misdemeanor), admitted he acted alone and the other two boys (including my son) knew nothing about his actions.
When I arrived the police were already on scene. Immediately I asked to view the video. The police officer informed me that was up to Best Buy.
My son and his 15-year old friend were given papers to sign stating they were banned from Best Buy (and the adjoining mall) for one year. The reason on the paper was "theft." A police officer told my son to sign the paper, I refused to allow him to sign because I felt it was inaccurate. He did NOT commit a theft, and was NOT an accomplice - he had no idea this had happened. Finally the security officer modified the document to "Theft (with friend)". I still felt this was inaccurate. Again the security officer modified the document's reason to "Theft (with friend). Did not steal." Though I was not totally satisfied, I allowed my son to sign because I was so embarrassed and eager to leave the busy store. When I signed the document I added above my signature, "<son's name> did not commit a theft."
This infuriated the security officer. I had been under the impression, according to the police officer, this was NOT a legal document but one used by Best Buy only. Still I did not want there to be a doubt or question or admission of guilt by my son signing a document that was false, inaccurate, and/or ambiguous. The security officer said I could not do that (add my comment), he then called in the police officer who told me he could arrest my son and charge him as an accomplice. I felt intimidated and threatened by the officer's statement in almost forcing us to sign a paper that was not completely accurate. The officer drew an arrow from the "Theft" to "Did not steal." I asked for a copy of the paper we signed and was told it would be mailed to me.
Again I asked to view the video and was told by one of the police officers that he didn't know what would happen to the video; it may become evidence. I still have not seen the video.
I am furious that my son is now deemed GUILTY (by Best Buy) of a crime he did not commit, and had no idea it had even been committed. I say "guilty" because he is being punished by being banned from their store and the mall for one year! I believe this to be a violation of his Civil Rights ("...due process, equal protection of the laws, and discrimination.") He is discriminated against because Best Buy has labeled him a thief, or a thief's accomplice; he is neither.
I am livid. I've always tried to instill in my son to choose his friends carefully and obey the laws. The friend who admitted to concealing the three or four guitar strings has been around my son for nearly a year. He's never given me any grief and has been very polite and respectful. To my knowledge this is his first offense. According to Florida Statutes he my be able to enter a pre-trial intervention of community service along with some court costs. I am not sure. At this point the boy is not permitted back at my house, nor is my son allowed to socialize with him until further notice (my rules).
I've worked retail many years ago and realize shoplifting and theft is probably horrible these days, especially during holidays and with a poor economy. I firmly support a zero tolerance against SHOPLIFTERS, but it is unfair to label and penalize an INNOCENT PERSON. The burden of proof still in this country lies with the prosecution - we still are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore punishment should not be doled out until there is no doubt as to guilt by an impartial party. There were no charges brought against my son. That speaks volumes about his presumed innocence.
As a strong computer user who has spent thousands of dollars at Best Buy and even camped in frigid weather for the store's Black Friday deals, now I absolutely REFUSE ever to enter Best Buy or spend another penny at any of their establishments, including on-line. I've canceled my Rewards points. The company has lost me, my husband, and my children as customers.
At this point, what should I do? I feel it is unfair to automatically label him (my son) as an accomplice when he was oblivious to what happened (he was playing the keyboard). He should not be penalized (blocked from the premises for a YEAR) just for entering the store with his friend.