Quite often our clients who have been accused of shoplifting tells us that they received a letter demanding that they pay the store, or its agent, a sum of money or that they will be sued civilly. These retailers and their agents are relying upon New York General Obligations Law §11-105. This law states that a retailer may recover potential civil penalties for shoplifting from a person up to five times the value of the merchandise. This civil penalty is separate and distinct from any criminal charges that are usually filed. This means that a person can be charged with a criminal charge, face all of the potential punishments associated with that AND be liable for a civil penalty up to $500.
What to do after receiving the letter
So what should a person do when they receive such a letter threatening a lawsuit if they don’t pay the money that is demanded? The answer is consult an experienced criminal defendant attorney While the law does provide for these civil penalties as described above, they almost never enforced beyond whatever restitution is imposed through criminal prosecution. The reality is that major retailers often partner with collection agencies hoping that some people will respond to the letter and voluntarily pay the civil penalty. The number of retail thefts is so large, and the penalty amounts so relatively small, it is not economically feasible for the retailer, or their agent, to actually pay the filing fee and court costs necessary to enforce the penalty and secure a civil judgment against you.
Paying civil penalties for shoplifting have no bearing on the criminal charge
Voluntarily paying the civil penalty will also have no bearing on the criminal charge that is pending against you. Paying the civil penalties for shoplifting will not result in the criminal charge being dismissed. Rather, you voluntarily paying the demanded civil penalty simply means that the retailer has collected this fee with minimal effort and you may receive no consideration from the prosecutor for having paid it. Before paying any civil penalty in case for which you have also been charge with a crime, it is important that you speak to an experienced defense attorney about what your obligations are and what effect it will have on your criminal charges