Georgia law allows for property owners who are victims of theft crimes to bring a civil action against the wrongdoer. This law covers big department stores and allows them to file suit against anyone who shoplifts from their stores. Under the law, the retailer must send you a certified letter, or personally serve you, and give you up to 30 days to make payment or payment arrangements. These demand letters often come from out of state law firms or debt collections agencies and will specify how much money they seek and how to make prompt payment arrangements. Most letters will include some sort of warning or threat about their ability to take further recovery actions and the effect the whole process could have on your credit.
So, do these letters work? Do people send the $150 payment? Based on my observations they usually do not. The law these retailers and debt collectors rely on when drafting this letter allows for $150 in "exemplary damages" even when the merchandise is recovered and later resold by the store. So in reality, the store has suffered no loss at all, yet they can still draft this demand letter and threaten you with a civil action. Any lawsuit filed, even if filed in small claim (Magistrate Court) takes time, money and generally involves paying attorneys. For these reasons, I have yet to see a client actually hauled into civil court over not paying a demand letter. If you notice, these letters are typically from out of state- New York, Florida, even California- debt collection firms. Unless someone within the agency is licensed to practice in Georgia, they would have to associate (pay) a Georgia lawyer to take the lead in the case or send a store employee to the courthouse to prosecute the action.
Remember, these letters are from the store you allegedly shoplifted from. They are civil in nature. They have nothing to do with the criminal shoplifting charges you are facing. Prosecutors do not ask if these letters have been received or complied with. A prosecutor's job and goals are completely different. How you respond to or ignore the letter will not have an impact on your criminal defense case.
If you have been charged with shoplifting or have received a civil demand letter for alleged shoplifting crimes, call us today to discuss your defense. There are preemptive measures I have my clients take to ensure the best possible outcome in their case. Remember, shoplifting punishments in Georgia are cumulative, meaning that a second, third or even fourth case will progressively carry tougher punishments. You do not want to simply plead guilty to a shoplifting charge and move on. Call us today and put our expertise in defending shoplifting charges to work for you.