Penalties for Misdemeanor Theft

The following is a transcript from our interview regarding theft, fraud, and forgery with a particular focus on misdemeanor theft.

Interviewer: And what are some of the penalties? This is directed toward some people who may think shoplifting’s no big deal. What are some of the things that could happen for the three misdemeanor levels, the lower felony levels?

The Retail Store Can Civilly Request Damages, Regardless of a Conviction

Ladan Law: There are a number of things that happen, pursuant to statute, once you’re arrested for shoplifting. The first thing, and most people don’t realize this, is that the retail store or the place that is accusing you of theft, can civilly request damages from you, regardless of whether you actually got away with merchandise or not.

There is a specific civil statute and there are law firms that are exclusively devoted to collecting this fee. The fee is generally $200.00 or $250.00 per incident and it is a request for money in lieu of them suing you civilly for civil damages.

These civil damages arise even if you didn’t get the item out of the store. The time it took their personnel to deal with you, they can say is due restitution and damages and they can civilly sue you. Now, what they’ve done is they have hired law firms to try to collect a settlement, ahead of time, even before your convicted.

That’s something that people need to be aware of. That settlement is a civil settlement and has no bearing in your criminal case. It’s best, when you receive that notice in the mail, to talk your attorney about what that means and what, if any, impact it’s going to have on a criminal case.

If You Are Convicted, Your Driver’s License May Be Suspended

The second thing that can happen is if you are adjudicated guilty, there is a statute in the theft statute that allows a judge to suspend your driver’s license. It becomes very important. There are other things that the judge can do but he or she has the discretion, upon a conviction, to suspend your driver’s license and, in fact, the statute says they must suspend your license for a period of time. That’s an interesting penalty that most people are not aware of.

Interviewer: How long do they normally suspend it for, if they do?

Ladan Law: The first suspension can be up to a period of six months and, if you’ve got a subsequent theft, that can be up to a period of one year. Judges in Orange County utilize this suspension penalty.

Applying for a Hardship License to Restore Driving Privileges

Interviewer: Can you apply for hardship license or license to get to and from work?

Ladan Law: After certain amount of time, yes, you could apply. You would be able to apply for hardship license but we certainly strive very hard for our clients not to find themselves in that particular situation.

Addressing the Civil Charges that Arise from a Theft Accusation

Interviewer: How about the pending civil charges? You say they try to get you to pay those before you’re even adjudicated the either guilty or not guilty. Can you push those off until there’s a result or do you have to address it? How do you do it?

Ladan Law: What we do for our clients is we’ll contact the law firm that’s made that demand and we’ll let them know that this issue is still in litigation. Frankly, it’s not cost effective for those law firms to ever file suit on anybody but they will threaten you and have the right to do so under the statute.

The real damages that come in over a $20.00 item arise because they can request attorneys fees on top of that civil penalty. That’s how they try to coerce you to pay. Often times, we may advise a client, “It’s just more cost-effective for you to pay this proposed settlement amount than actually go through with the litigation,” but that’s a decision we like to make with our clients after they’re fully informed.

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