Out of court

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Shoplifters, Beware!

If you have a notion to take something from a store without paying, don't do it! Even if you feel that the big box, corporate store would not feel it, you will. For starters, they are watching. They have hidden cameras, security personnel dressed like shoppers, and detection devices at the doors..

And once you are caught, not only will you be prosecuted, but the store can sue you for damages under RCW 4.24.230. That provides: " An adult or emancipated minor who . . . [steals]is liable in addition to actual damages, for a penalty to the owner or seller in the amount of the retail value thereof not to exceed two thousand eight hundred fifty dollars, plus an additional penalty of not less than one hundred dollars nor more than six hundred fifty dollars, plus all reasonable attorney's fees and court costs expended by the owner or seller.."

This liability is in addition to potential criminal proscution. Frequently, people get notices after being caught by security from distant lawyers practicing in states like Florida. The letter demands anywhere from $100 to $650 for the petty cases. The letter must contain this notice: "IMPORTANT NOTICE: The payment of any penalty demanded of you does not prevent criminal prosecution under a related criminal provision." If you receive such a notice, don't just pay right away. It may be worth consulting a lawyer..

One way to mitigate the inevitable criminal prosecution is to try to work out a 'compromise of the misdemeanor.' This compromise is described in another Washington law, RCW 10.22.010. It grants a court discretion to dismiss an eligible charge (where the charge was not committed upon an officer, or done “riotously,” or with intent to commit a felony or involve domestic violence.) The key requirement is that the injured party must “acknowledge in writing that he or she has received satisfaction for the injury.” So if you want to pay the civil fine, it may be worth negotiating with the victim of the theft to get them to agree to sign off on a compromise of the misdemeanor..

One irony for shoplifters: the big corporate chains--Sears, KMART, Fry's Electronics, etc. are the most likely to catch you, the most likely to make a civil demand, and the least likely to agree to a compromise of the misdemeanor when you are charged with a crime. "It's against corporate policy" or some such rubbish is their reasoning. They want your purchases but they don't really care about you: the no mercy rule. In contrast, the poorer, solo shopowners who can't afford the fancy security are more likely to sign off on a compromise. One more reason to stay away from chain stores..

These rules apply to juveniles as well. That is, the custodial parent can be sued on the civil side. Of course that may give the parent a right to collect that debt from their young loved one.
For example there is a case where the juvenile shoplifted a $20 shirt and his father paid a civil penalty of $175 to the store, the court required the son to pay his father $100 back in restitution. State v. T.A.D., 122 Wn. App. 290, (2004)..

So caveat emptor: buyer and shoplifter, beware..!

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