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Civil Demand Letter

Penal Code 490.5 PC - Shoplifting Civil Demand Letter

California Penal Code 490.5 PC is the statute authorizing a company or law firm to send you a civil demand letter if you are accused of shoplifting. These common letters demand payment for any losses the retailer suffered due to the crime.

Civil demand letters for shoplifting can order up to $500 for the cost of the stolen item, damaged merchandise, and the cost of any loss prevention officer handling the shoplifting case.

California Penal Code 490.5 PC – Shoplifting Civil Demand Letter
PC 490.5 authorizes the sending of a civil demand letter if you are accused of shoplifting.

Suppose you get scared and decide to make a quick payment after receiving the letter. In that case, it could be viewed as admitting guilt, and it does not prevent the retail store from pursuing criminal charges or a civil lawsuit.

In other words, if you receive a civil demand letter, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer for help before making any decisions.

California Penal Code 459.5 PC defines shoplifting and says you commit this misdemeanor crime when you enter an open business intending to steal merchandise worth $950 or less.

Suppose you were caught stealing clothes at the local shopping mall. The store has sent you a civil demand letter asking you to pay $300. In that case, do you have to pay? In other words, will it protect you from criminal prosecution if you pay a civil demand letter for shoplifting?

The quick answer is maybe. Suppose you refuse to pay. In that case, the store could sue you in court to collect the money, but it's typically unlikely they would pursue this option. If you pay, a prosecutor could still file a Penal Code 459.5 shoplifting charge against you in criminal court because you stole merchandise from a store.

The victim store or its lawyer sends a civil demand letter to the alleged shoplifter. The letter demands payment for the store's losses because of your shoplifting offense.

What Is a Civil Demand Letter?

If you're accused of shoplifting from a store, perhaps backed by video camera evidence, you may receive a civil demand letter from the merchant's attorney.

A civil demand letter is a legal instrument merchants use to recover losses connected with shoplifting without litigation.

These letters are normally sent by attorneys representing the retail business and demand payment of a specific amount as compensation for the alleged theft. The demanded amount often covers:

  • Value of the stolen goods if not recovered or returned in sellable condition,
  • Additional damages,
  • Penalty or recovery cost.

Simply put, a civil demand letter is when the retail store or their attorney sends you a letter demanding payment for the loss they incurred due to your alleged shoplifting, even if the merchandise was recovered and not damaged.

A civil demand letter involves a civil action rather than criminal prosecution, and any payment to the store is a form of civil recovery.

Under California law, retailers can demand up to $500 in losses, regardless of the cost of the item. If you ignore a civil demand letter, PC 490.5 PC allows the store to file a case in small claims court against you, which is unlikely.

California's shopkeeper's privilege law allows store owners to detain you if they have probable cause to believe you are guilty of shoplifting. They have the legal right to use force to detain you and even deadly force if necessary.

Civil Demand Letter - Quick Facts

  • California Penal Code 490.5 PC authorizes a law firm or company to send a civil demand letter if you are accused of shoplifting.
  • Civil demand letters ask for payment for any losses by the retailer.
  • A shoplifting civil demand notice can order payment of up to $500.
  • The "losses" include the cost of the stolen item, damaged merchandise, and any employee handling the shoplifting case.
  • Making a quick payment might be considered admitting guilt, and it does not prevent the store from seeking criminal charges or a civil lawsuit.
  • A civil demand document typically seeks restitution for the alleged theft.
  • Paying the civil demand letter does not always protect you from being charged with a crime, but it makes it less likely.
  • Shoplifting is a crime defined under California Penal Code 459.5 PC.
  • You commit shoplifting when you enter an open business and intend to steal merchandise worth $950 or less.
  • Shoplifting is a misdemeanor carrying up to one year in county jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Civil cases typically involve disputes between individuals or companies seeking monetary compensation and are separate from criminal cases.
  • A civil case is brought by another entity for a perceived wrong, while a criminal case is brought by the state for breaking the law.

What Happens if You Pay?

Many people believe paying a civil demand will avoid further complications. This is only partially true because it can protect you from being sued by the merchant for the loss they incurred due to the shoplifting incident.

Notably, however, paying does not automatically protect you from criminal prosecution. Suppose you pay, and the retailer decides not to pursue charges. In that case, California could still decide to pursue a criminal case based on the evidence.

Simply put, even if you pay the amount specified on the civil demand, you can still face shoplifting charges because any agreement you make with the merchant applies to the criminal justice system.

The decision whether to file charges against you is made by the local district attorney. Criminal charges could carry jail time, fines, community service, and probation.

What are the Key Factors to Consider?

Remember, paying the demand does not give you legal immunity. The decision to file criminal charges is the prosecutor's responsibility, who can proceed based on evidence, regardless of the civil demand's status.

The merchant has the discretion to sue you in civil court. Many retailers use demands as a deterrent and to recover losses. Merchant policies will vary from one business to another, and some will not even make a police report if there is a resolution.

The District Attorney's Office acts independently, and even in cases where the merchant does not want to seek charges, they could still be prosecuted for shoplifting, often when someone has prior convictions. If you receive a civil demand letter for shoplifting, below are some additional factors to consider:

  • Paying the civil demand is not an admission of guilt.
  • Paying the demand is a way to compensate the retailer for their losses.
  • If unpaid, lawsuits are still unlikely, especially for a small loss.
  • Ignoring a civil demand letter could lead to other legal complications.

If you are unsure how to respond to a civil demand letter, consult a California criminal defense lawyer who can guide you based on your circumstances and help you navigate the legal process in shoplifting cases. Contact us for more information. Cron, Israels & Stark is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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