I Received A Demand Letter From A Law Firm Representing The Store I Got Arrested In Asking For Civil Penalties. What Should I Do?
Our clients often receive a letter from a law firm, oftentimes from out of state, representing the store they are charged with shoplifting from, which looks very official and it makes it appear that it is required to pay the store civil fines. The Texas Theft Liability Act allows victims of theft to attempt to recover the costs associated with the shoplifting from the person who is charged with the offense, and the statute establishes a separate civil. It doesn’t require that the person is convicted of the offense, merely that they have been arrested for it is sufficient. These law firms are engaged in the practice of sending out these letters to pretty much everyone who is charged with this crime and it is viewed widely in the legal community and more broadly as a predatory practice. The costs that they attempt to show they are owed are much larger than the merchandise, the cost of re-shelving the items, and the cost of employing loss prevention.
Nevertheless, the statute does allow them to recover the value of the merchandise plus $1,000 and attorney’s fees, which in the case of litigation would be the most significant sum. I have never seen such a lawsuit filed against one of my clients, nor have I heard of such a lawsuit being filed, and perhaps the reason is that the Texas Theft Liability Act is a loser pays statute, meaning that even if the store dismisses their case instead of losing at trial, either way, they have to pay the defendant’s attorney’s fees unless they win. These firms typically make enough off splitting the money from the people who do pay to justify the minimal cost of sending these demand letters and never file any lawsuits.
I recommend giving any such letter to your attorney so that they can present it to the prosecutors because the prosecutors are going to be dealing with the victim or the loss prevention officer for the store. Most likely, it will not make the store look good if they want you to be prosecuted for it, all the while extorting money from you on the side. Prosecutors typically don’t like that and they don’t want to see the store acting on their own. Another reason it is important not to pay these civil fines is because paying it is an admission that you committed the offense of theft and that could be used against you in your criminal case.
I Only Stole Food This Time. Why Am I Being Charged With A Felony?
Normally, if you steal less than $100 worth of items and you have no previous theft conviction history, it is a Class C offense, which is a ticket-able offense, not an arrestable offense. However, if you have two or more prior convictions, the next time it is going to be a state jail felony charge. It does not mean necessarily that you are going to be ultimately convicted of that state jail felony or that you will go to a state jail facility. You could be given county jail time with a felony conviction under § 12.44(a) of the Texas Penal Code, or the prosecutors could agree to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor. That would depend on the facts of the situation and your history, but even if the amount of merchandise stolen is low, the stakes can be high enough to warrant hiring an experienced attorney.
For more information on Dealing With Civil Demand Letters In Texas, a free case evaluation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (512) 478-9898 today.
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