Caught shoplifting and now you get a letter from a lawyer demanding hundreds of dollars. Does that mean that you’re facing criminal charges? If you pay their demand, does it stop charges from being filed? What about if you ignore the letter? Does that mean they will then file criminal charges or call the police?
A “Civil Demand” letter means nothing.
Here’s an overview of what “normally” happens.
First, you’re caught by the store personnel. They then have a choice – document this and let you go or call the police. Although it can happen later – they could call the police to report the incident days, weeks or even months later, typically if they don’t call the police on the day that they apprehend you, then there will not be any criminal case.
Next – the civil demand letter…. Whether or not the loss prevention officer called the police at the time, they can make a “demand” for up to $500 as civil “damages”. That letter often arrives within a week or so. The law firms that send out those letters are hoping to strike quickly so that you’ll pay – either out of fear, shock, or hoping that it makes any criminal case go away. Can they send the letter much later? Sure. It’s just not typical.
And if there are criminal charges filed, it is completely separate from any civil demand letter sent by the store or their lawyer. If you were contacted by the police and issued a citation to appear in court, then the date on the ticket is when you have to appear. If the DA’s office (or City Attorney’s office in some areas) has filed charges against you by then, that court date is your arraignment. If they have not filed charges by your citation date, but they decide to file later (which often happens due to a backlog of cases), then they will typically send you a letter to appear in court on a particular date.
But the civil demand and arrest/arraignment letters and the two processes are totally separate. If you choose to ignore the civil demand (which most attorneys suggest), make sure you’re not ignoring an arraignment letter indicating criminal charges have been filed.
If this is an Orange County situation and you need clarification, shoot me a quick email and I’ll see how I can help. If you have in fact been arrested or cited for shoplifting or petty theft, send me an email or give me a call so we can discuss representation in court. A theft conviction isn’t anything you want on your record if we can avoid it.