Shoplifting and Corrective Education Company (CEC) class

There’s another twist to shoplifting cases now – Corrective Education Company (CEC).

 

I recently heard about somebody that was stopped and accused of shoplifting in a large store – it rhymes with Walmart – and was told that either they admit guilt and agree to go to a “diversion” class through Corrective Education Company or they would call the police and have them arrested.

I have posted previously about the Civil Demand letters that retailers send out, about shoplifting in general and the defenses to shoplifting and theft.  The “referrals” to CEC is a relatively new thing though.

 

First – Corrective Education Company.

 

That company – Corrective Education Company or CEC – has been sued for essentially extorting people based on shoplifting incident. [At the time of the writing of this post, I do not know the outcome of that lawsuit]   They “offered” you an option to go to the class they steer you to and to pay $500 or they’ll call the police.

Horribly unethical and potentially illegal for them to do.

Here’s how this works: The retailer (their loss prevention person) accuses you of shoplifting. They then give you the option to either sign a piece of paper admitting guilt and agree to go to CEC’s program for $500 OR they’ll call the police. CEC calls this a voluntary “choice” on the part of the people accused of shoplifting. Not much of a choice.

Scared, you admit guilt (whether or not the legal elements of theft are true) and sign their paperwork and agree to go the class. If you follow through and do their class and pay their money, CEC gets paid… but guess what? The store also gets a cut. That’s just wrong.

By getting part of this money, the stores claim that the money is used to offset the cost of retail theft, loss prevention, etc. While that may be partially true, it also creates an incentive for the stores to accuse people of theft, even if the legal elements aren’t met. No court, no prosecutor, no defense attorney to stand up for the rights of the accused…. so it’s easy to accuse someone and give them this “choice” of paying or being arrested. They’re preying on those they choose to detain. Juveniles? Minorities? Those they think won’t stand up for themselves and will just pay the money and attend the “class”?

This should be dealt with in court, not through coercive tactics to get money

California law has a remedy for the stores to recover any costs in a shoplifting incident. That’s a civil demand letter and potentially a lawsuit. If a person is charged in court with a criminal offense and convicted, they are required by law to pay for any damages. Even if no charges are filed, the store can still send a civil demand letter as authorized by Penal Code 490.5. If the person doesn’t pay the civil demand, the store can still sue in court for any damages they have suffered as a result of this incident.

But by coercing people into the CEC class, they are in essence bypassing the law. Bypassing the court. They’re becoming the prosecutor and the judge as well as doing away with the defense attorney. They’re forcing admissions of wrongdoing. They’re collecting money without a determination in court of liability or wrongdoing.

So should I attend the class?

In general, if the police were going to be involved, it would be on the day you were stopped in the store. Yes, they could theoretically file a police report afterwards, but in the vast majority of cases, they don’t. They instead bank on the easy money from the CEC program and their cut of that money.

They can (and probably will) send you a letter about the program and they may also send a divil demand letter and say it’s a “fine” you have to pay. It’s not a civil “fine” – it’s a civil demand letter. California law allows a merchant to demand up to $500 following a theft incident. These letters are typically sent by the store or a law firm acting on their behalf. They are all bark and no bite.

If you ignore the letter, they have to make a choice – let it go or file a small claims case against you. I have never heard of anyone actually being sued if they ignore the letter. Why don’t they do anything? Because lawyers cannot get involved in small claims cases and it isn’t worth the store’s time to pursue a small claims case over such a minor amount.

There is one law firm in Florida that does nothing but these kind of civil demand letters on behalf of stores. They were quoted in a Wall Street Journal article as sending out over one and a half million letters a year, but they filed less than 10 lawsuits. Not ten percent. Not ten thousand. Ten. The odds are overwhelming that they won’t do anything.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’ve already been stopped, accused and coerced to go to their costly “class”.  Ultimately, how to proceed is your choice.  They forced you to sign a piece of paper admitting guilt.  Will that stand up in court?  Every case is different, but under threat of being arrested or admitting guilt, that statement you made may never see the light of day in court. Will they pursue you if you don’t attend the class and pay the money?  Just like the civil demand letters, I don’t see them pursuing a small claims case over $500.  Even if they did, I’m not sure how their little tactics would look to a judge hearing the case.  Any letter they send to try and force you to their class and to pay probably won’t comply with the Penal Code requirements for a civil demand.

I practice out of Orange County.  If you’re in this situation here and want to discuss your case further – or if you’ve been arrested and are facing a criminal case for theft, I’m available to discuss your case with you.

Call or text:  714.532.3600

Email:  info@joedane.com

Joe Dane, Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney

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