In People v. Patel (1981) 121 Cal.App.3d Supp. 20, the security manager of a local department store witnessed a suspect remove a price tag from an expensive electronic game and place a price tag from a less expensive item in its place. The suspect then took the game to the cashier and paid the less expensive price. The security manager watched as the cashier placed the game into a brown paper bag and hand it to the suspect. The suspect then attempted to leave the store. The security manager stopped the suspect and led the suspect into a back office where the game was removed from the bag.

The appellate court found that this was a reasonable search and seizure. The security manager never lost sight of the electronic game. The game did not leave the manager’s plain view when it was placed into the bag, it merely “had a different cover.” There was nothing else in the bag, so there was no danger that the security manager would intrude into the suspect’s personal effects.

In People v. Buonauro (1981) 113 Cal.App.3d 688, a drug store manager saw the suspect standing behind an employee counter where certain expensive items were kept. The manager stepped away for a moment. The suspect was no longer behind the counter when the manager returned. Another shopper approached the manager and gave him the physical description of a woman she saw place two radios in her purse. The physical description matched the woman the manager had seen behind the counter.

The manager found the suspect was still in the store. He approached her and asked her if she would accompany him to the back office because he wanted to see what was inside her purse. The suspect pulled a radio out of her purse, tossed it to the manager, and tried to run away. The manager, however, saw that another radio was still in her purse. The manager caught up with the suspect and informed her that she was under citizen’s arrest. The manager told her that she would have to accompany him to the store office, or else she would be forced to do so. The suspect resisted. Two female employees grabbed the suspect by her arms, and the manager pushed her from behind.

The manager asked appellant for the second radio. The suspect took the second radio out of her purse. The manager asked her if she had any money to purchase the items. The suspect said “No.” The manager then asked her to fill out a form. The suspect wrote down a false name and address. A deputy sheriff was called and the appellant was arrested.

The suspect argued to the court that her detention was unlawful. However, the court found that the manager was within his rights to detain the suspect based upon his seeing the suspect behind the employee counter and the statement from the witness who saw the suspect place merchandise into her purse.

The court also found that the manager’s citizen arrest of the suspect was also lawful. A private person may arrest another for a public offense committed or attempted in the person’s presence. In this case, the suspect committed an offense when she tried to flee with the second radio (which the manager saw) in her purse.

Finally, the court found that there was no unlawful search. In fact, there was no search at all. The manager asked the suspect for the other radio and the suspect voluntarily took the radio out of her purse and handed it him.