When someone is caught shoplifting, getting arrested and charged with a crime is only part of what happens. About a month or so after the arrest–and almost always before the first court date–a letter demanding money is usually sent from one of a handful of out-of-state law firms or collection companies. The letter is ambiguously worded, and most people interpret it to mean that if they pay the money, no prosecution will happen.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Most states, including Louisiana, allow stores to collect a civil penalty from people caught shoplifting to cover the cost of their security. The letter is a carefully worded request for cash (usually around $500 to $800) representing a prorated percentage of the annual store cost of equipment and personnel.
If you read the letter a few times, however, you will realize the store is not actually promising to do anything in exchange for the money. In 25 years, no prosecutor I have seen has ever demanded a criminal defendant pay a store for these costs. This is just free money the store is demanding.
Year after year, I tell people not to pay this money. Most of the time, they pay it anyway, hoping it will somehow make a difference. Either way, the store will still prosecute. No leniency will be shown for paying the extortion. I have never seen any of these stores ever file suit to try to collect the statutory penalty.
Whatever you do, resist handing money to the store, unless there is a written deal in place to drop the prosecution and the local DA has signed off on it. If you or someone you know has been charged with shoplifting, please call the Gouner Law Office.