Say someone steals my car (or whatever). Am I allowed to trespass to retrieve the car? It shouldn't be trespassing if I am defending my property.

The other question implies eg a store grabbing a shoplifter is illegal, which makes no sense.

  • 1
    Does this answer your question? If someone steals something of mine, is it legal to steal it back? Apr 26, 2020 at 1:51
  • That seems to answer no, but I need confirmation. Otherwise someone can steal something and put it on their lawn (for example) and then I would have to stop pursuing. Or put it in their bag or some minor thing.
    – raham
    Apr 26, 2020 at 1:53
  • 1
    Correct: if you see your stolen property on someone's lawn, you are supposed to stop pursuing. Then call the police.
    – phoog
    Apr 26, 2020 at 7:14
  • You might convince the prosecutor not to bring trespass charges against you if the person whose land was trespassed against was a car thief, but you couldn't guarantee that result. There are citizen's arrest rules but they would rarely apply if not in hot pursuit.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 27, 2020 at 4:13
  • A store ordinarily grabs a shoplifter in a citizen's arrest on its own property, so it isn't trespassing. See shouselaw.com/nevada/citizens-arrest
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 27, 2020 at 4:14

2 Answers 2


No, you are not allowed to break the law (trespassing) to enforce the law.

This boils down to: 'two wrongs don't make a right'.

A law enforcement officer is allowed to enter the property to determine (or to collect the needed information for a prosecuter) if your claim is correct (your car on someone elses property that may have been stolen).

A officer is trained to collect evidence (or secure the area untill someone else does) in a manner acceptable to a court.

The court will consider evidence collected by the law enforcement officials to be impartial and therefore it is in your interest (as a person that is envolved in the matter, thus impartial) to have the police deal with this matter properly.

So what about a bag? If a shoplifter puts an item in their own bag dont you have to violate their property to retrieve it?

No, this would be a violation of Equality before the law or the Golden Rule:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

and is the backbone of civil code and common law jurasdictions (ius respicit aequitatem) and thus implemented in one form or another.

You must ask yourself the following question:

  • how would you feel, if a compleate stranger came up, grabbed your bag to search for something they claim belongs to them?

Most peaple (including a judge) wouldn't like that at all.

In such cases the police must be called.

In cases of in flagrante delicto a Citizen's arrest for the detainment of the person until the police arrive may be made in most jurisdictions.

Depending on the situation, the police themselfs made need a search warrant.

So the threshold is very high and care must be taken to deal with such situations properly.


  • @raham no, you don't, and you shouldn't because it would be against the law. One lawful course of action would be to call the police and have them handle the matter, as I've said in other comments, as also suggested in this answer. Another lawful option would be to confront the shoplifter and persuade the shoplifter (without resorting to threats of force) to return the item voluntarily. This might be quite likely to work with some people and quite unlikely to work with others.
    – phoog
    Apr 26, 2020 at 16:56
  • @raham It's worth noting that some jurisdictions do have the concept of citizen's arrest, whereby someone who is not a law enforcement officer may detain someone under certain circumstances until an officer arrives. This is risky and generally not recommended, but it explains how a store's private security guard can detain suspected shoplifters. Someone effecting a citizen's arrest does not have the same powers as an officer, however, so the power to arrest does not imply the power to search the arrested person nor to seize items in the person's possession.
    – phoog
    Apr 26, 2020 at 17:03
  • @raham Just as others don't have the right to violate your property, you don't have the right to violate theirs. Citizen's arrest is a completely different question and should be asked separately. Apr 26, 2020 at 18:59
  • Isnt that assault with a different justification and isnt assault a property violation
    – raham
    Apr 26, 2020 at 23:44

I am almost certain the answer is yes because otherwise shoplifting would be extremely easy. For example if a shoplifter puts an item in their car or bag or something you would have to assault or burglarize them to get it back. So in the absence of other answers I think you get an easement to retrieve your property.

  • Please explain the downvote
    – raham
    Apr 26, 2020 at 3:24
  • Yeah, in the absence of permission, you would have to assault someone or illegally enter their property. You don't magically get an exception from breaking the law just because someone else broke it first.
    – user4657
    Apr 26, 2020 at 4:50
  • Because an answer should not just be your personal opinion of what make sense. It should ideally contain some research on what the law actually says. References would be nice. In this case I downvoted because what you wrote is simply incorrect. In general you are not allowed to trespass or commit other crimes in the course of reclaiming your property. Apr 26, 2020 at 4:57
  • In that case any store grabbing shoplifters is breaking the law. Or searching their bag or anything.
    – raham
    Apr 26, 2020 at 6:28
  • 1
    The correct course of action after a shoplifter has put stolen goods into a bag or a car is to call the police and let the police recover the stolen goods.
    – phoog
    Apr 26, 2020 at 7:11

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