Shoplifting is a relatively minor crime that can have long-lasting consequences. Aside from the embarrassment, and the time and money spent going to court to fight the charges, there can be civil consequences as well. If you’ve recently been arrested for shoplifting from a large retailer like Walmart or Target, you may have recently received a letter from a law firm demanding civil payment for the incident. This may appear to be a scam, but it’s actually completely legal under North Carolina law.
North Carolina Allows Retailers to Recover Civilly for Shoplifting
Under N.C.G.S. § 1-538, retailers are empowered to sue a defendant charged with larceny or shoplifting for both damages from the theft and any attorneys’ fees that arise from the incident. The statute provides for a minimum fine of $150 up to $1,000. The statute does not require that the defendant be convicted of the criminal offense for the retailer to recover any damages.
But Will a Retailer Actually Sue You Under North Carolina Law?
Most of these demand letters are sent by law firms outside of the state of North Carolina. Typically, they offer to settle any claim from the retailer for $100, which is less than the minimum provided for under the statute. It can be appealing to just send the firm a check for this relatively small amount to settle the matter once and for all and avoid any further legal issues.
Paying a civil judgment alone is not an admission of guilt, and in some cases, paying the civil penalty in a minor shoplifting case can persuade a prosecutor to drop the criminal case. There is no guarantee this will occur, however.
It’s important to note though that it is generally not worth the cost of an attorney for most retailers to pursue these cases in civil court. Any action for just a few hundred dollars will have to go to small claims court, and the filing fee alone for a small claims case is $100. That’s before the time and money the retailer will be spending to have an attorney show up in court. Even if the retailer is successful in securing a civil judgment, it may be impossible to collect as North Carolina generally does not allow for wage garnishment of civil judgments.
So it is very rare for a large retailer to pursue a civil lawsuit under § 1-538. The risk then is whether failing to pay the demand letter will go on your credit report. Unfortunately, there is no way to know for sure how failing to respond to such a letter will affect your credit, but it’s important to keep all of these factors in mind if you do receive one of these letters after a shoplifting arrest.
A Strong Voice for Defendants
Unfortunately, an arrest can be the just beginning of legal problems, both criminal and civil in nature. It’s important to understand your rights no matter what issues pop up. For a confidential consultation with our experienced Charlotte criminal defense attorneys who can defend you, contact Remington & Dixon, PLLC. We also offer convenient payment plans.
Brandon double-majored in Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He earned his Juris Doctor from Barry University School of Law in Orlando, Florida. Throughout his career, Brandon has received numerous awards and recognition from his peers and agencies that rate attorneys. A few of these awards are from The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100 Trial Lawyer in 2014, The National Trial Lawyers: Top 40 Under 40 in 2014, Nation’s Top One Percent: National Association of Distinguished Counsel in 2015, Super Lawyers: Rising Stars in 2018 and 2019, and North Carolina Business Magazine: Legal Elite in 2019, among others.