Stores send “civil demand” letters to shoplifters to scare them into paying a $250 fine, but shoplifters don’t owe the store anything unless the store successfully sues and wins a judgment against them in civil court.
What Is A Shoplifting Civil Demand Fine?
If you get caught shoplifting, the store’s attorney will send a “Civil Demand” letter to you. The letter will cite the Missouri civil shoplifting law that allows stores to sue shoplifters and will demand that you pay the store $250 to reimburse it for expenses related to the theft, or else they will sue you in civil court.
If you refuse to pay the $250 shoplifting civil demand, the store’s attorney will continue to mail civil demand letters to you, with the amount of the demand increasing with each letter.
In some situations, the store’s security guard may demand that you pay the $250 immediately, before you leave the store. Security guards and store personnel can be very threatening and may say you can’t leave unless you pay immediately. (This is risky behavior by the security guard because you could sue the store for false imprisonment.)
Many stores call the police to have you arrested for shoplifting and then send the $250 shoplifting civil demand letter to you later.
Should You Pay The $250 Shoplifting Civil Demand Fine To The Store?
Paying the $250 civil demand fine has no effect on your criminal shoplifting case.
Many people pay the $250 civil demand fine because they fear being sued in civil court. They also may think paying the civil demand will help their criminal shoplifting case, but it has no effect. The civil shoplifting case is totally separate from the criminal shoplifting case.
So, if you refuse to pay the $250 civil demand, the Prosecutor in your criminal shoplifting case will never know about it. Your refusal to pay the civil demand will not affect the Prosecutor’s decision regarding whether to dismiss or reduce your shoplifting charge to “Littering.”
PLEASE NOTE: It is illegal for the store to threaten criminal prosecution if you refuse to pay the $250 shoplifting civil demand.
Can You Be Sued By The Store For Shoplifting?
Yes, a store can sue you in civil court for shoplifting. This is a separate legal case from the criminal charge of shoplifting.
Will The Store Sue You For Shoplifting?
A store can sue a shoplifter in civil court and could possibly win a judgment against you for their actual damages, a penalty of up to $250, plus court costs and reasonable attorney fees.
However, unless you were caught stealing a $10,000 purse from Nieman Marcus, it is highly unlikely that a store will sue you for misdemeanor shoplifting under $500.
Why Won’t The Store Sue You For Shoplifting?
A store can legally sue a shoplifter, but they rarely do because it costs them much more to sue than they would gain if they won the lawsuit.
Therefore, most experienced attorneys advise their clients to ignore a store’s “civil demand” letter.
Even if you pay the $250 shoplifting civil demand fine, the store can still call the police and file criminal charges against you for shoplifting.
What Happens If A Store Sues You For Shoplifting?
If a store sues you in civil court for shoplifting and wins a judgment against you, the store must then collect on the judgment if you don’t voluntarily pay.
The store’s attorney can attempt to collect the debt by garnishing your paycheck or bank account. However, the store can’t garnish your paycheck or bank account unless it knows where you work or has your bank account number.
How Long Can The Store Hold A Shoplifter?
Security guards and other store employees can use “reasonable force” to detain a suspected shoplifter “in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable length of time” while the store manager determines whether the person actually stole anything, and to allow time for the police to arrive.
A Shoplifter Can Sue A Store for False Imprisonment, Assault, and Battery
If the store’s security guard or other store employee holds a suspected shoplifter for too long or uses unreasonable force, the shoplifter can sue the store for assault, battery, and false imprisonment.
The Maximum Punishment For Shoplifting in Missouri Is 1 Year in Jail and a $1,000 Fine
Stealing under $500 is a class A misdemeanor in Missouri, punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and 1 year in jail.
Stealing Under $150 is a class D misdemeanor if you are a first-time offender and is punishable by a maximum fine of $500 but no jail time.
Stealing items valued at $500 or more is a felony and is a much more serious crime, with worse penalties.
For more information, click here to read my previous blog post, “How To Avoid Jail Time For Shoplifting.”
A Shoplifting Conviction Stays On Your Criminal Record Forever
If you plead guilty or are convicted of shoplifting, stealing, or petty larceny, that conviction will show up on your criminal record forever. Convictions for shoplifting can NOT be expunged from your criminal record.
Having a conviction for shoplifting can prevent you from getting a job, renting an apartment, getting a loan from a bank, and obtaining federal student loans.
An Attorney Can Get Your Shoplifting Ticket Dismissed Or Reduced To “Littering”
Instead of pleading guilty, you can hire an attorney to get your shoplifting charge dismissed or reduced to “Littering.”
In most shoplifting cases, your attorney can take care of everything with no court appearance required.
If your shoplifting ticket gets amended to “Littering,” you will have to pay a fine and court costs. Most courts will give you at least 30 days to pay, or you can ask for a longer payment plan.
For a free consultation about your Missouri shoplifting case, contact criminal defense attorney Andrea Storey Rogers at (314) 724-5059 or [email protected]