David was caught shoplifting at a local Walmart. He was detained by loss prevention staff; the property he is accused of attempting to steal — a $12 T-shirt — was recovered. No charges were filed, but he was banned from returning to the store.
Sandra was also accused of shoplifting at Walmart, for about $25 worth of beauty products. Again, the merchandise was recovered. However, this time the police were called, Sandra was charged with shoplifting. She went to court on her appointed date and the case was resolved.
They both thought the incident was behind them. Then one day they received a certified demand letter from Walmart for $300 or some other amount for damages related to their crime.
Is this legal?
Retailers Can Ask For Damages Related to Shoplifting
Yes, it is. Texas state law authorizes retailers like Walmart to bring a civil action against any person who damages their property or commits a crime — like theft — on their property.
In Texas, Walmart and other retailers can sue a shoplifter in civil claims court. They can ask for up to $1,000, in addition to the value of the property stolen (even if it was recovered) and attorneys’ fees. For the parents of minors charged with shoplifting, the retailer can sue them for up to $5,000 in damages, along with the cost of the property stolen, and attorneys’ fees.
However, before retailers like Walmart go to the trouble of filing a civil action, they often send out what is called a “demand” letter. The demand letter is just that — a letter demanding that the shoplifter pay a certain amount for the alleged damages caused by their shoplifting. The retailer threatens the addressee with a civil lawsuit if they do not receive the payment within thirty days.
David and Sandra both feel they’ve paid for their mistakes and shouldn’t be expected to make any additional restitution related to the incident.
A Threat of Civil Action Has No Effect On a Criminal Case
It’s important to remember that this is a civil action and has nothing to do with the criminal case against you. Paying or not paying won’t affect the criminal case against you (paying the amount demanded will not get any charges against you dropped).
There’s no advantage to responding to a demand letter from Walmart or other retailers. If it makes you feel better, then by all means pay the amount asked for. However, the likelihood that a retailer will pursue costly legal action to recover a few hundred dollars is remote. If you choose not to pay, their reaction is usually just to send out more demand letters.
Arrested for Shoplifting in Houston? Talk to Houston Criminal Defense Attorney Lisa Shapiro Strauss
In Houston, being charged with shoplifting or another kind of theft is a very serious matter. If found guilty, you could be facing fines, prison time, and yes, demand letters. In addition, the conviction will remain on your permanent record, which could have a big impact on your ability to get a job, a place to live or qualify for a loan.
Lisa Shapiro Strauss is a former county DA turned criminal defense attorney. Her legal experience and skills have helped many clients accused of shoplifting and other crimes get the charges against them dropped or reduced.
If you’ve been charged with shoplifting in Houston or Harris County, sending $300 to Walmart isn’t going to help your case at all. The smart thing to do is contact the law offices of Lisa Shapiro Strauss to discuss your shoplifting case and explore possible defense strategies.