What is a Civil Demand Letter in a Los Angeles Shoplifting Case?

Many of our clients ask us about a letter they receive shortly after having been charged with shoplifting from the merchant. This letter often comes from the store asking for money to be paid in an attempt to recoup their losses.

Under California Penal Code ยง490 (b) and (c) the merchant who has allegedly been stolen from has the right to seek civil remedies against the person. They may demand anywhere between $50 to $500 in civil liability, as well as the cost of the item stolen. However, there must be a loss. If the item stolen was recovered, then the merchant has no right to seek compensation for the losses, since the item was returned.

The Civil Demand letter is something is concerned with Civil liability, not criminal. If there are any issues or debate over the amount being asked for, or liability itself, it is a matter for civil court. Civil court is a matter between the injured party and the one being accused, whereas criminal court is a matter between the state government and the person being accused.

Even if a civil demand letter is sent, and the all losses have been compensated, the criminal judge and prosecutors may still bring a case. The merchant may cooperate and sign a civil compromise allowing for the Criminal Defense Attorney to present it in criminal court to demonstrate that all costs have been reimbursed. This is not a guarantee that the criminal case will be dismissed, but will help make a strong argument towards dismissal.

An experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense attorney knows not only how to get a civil compromise completed, but can present it in court in a manner that gives you the best change to have your case dismissed. A powerful argument and well prepared defense can give a case the best possible chance to be dropped and making sure a criminal record is kept clean.