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Zoey_ JD
Zoey_ JD, JustAnswer Criminal Law Mentor
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 23164
Experience:  Admitted to NYS Criminal defense bar in 1989. Extensive arraignment, hearing, trial experience.
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That was it..

Customer Question

That was it..
Submitted: 6 years ago.
Category: Criminal Law
Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 6 years ago.

Did you have a question to ask a legal expert? I can assist if I get some background from you.
Customer: replied 6 years ago.
I asked the full question in the space provided... then this "any other info" panel came up.. so no wonder it is a little vague.

Ok, my son, age 17 was detained for shoplifting a few weeks ago..a most shocking and out of character thing for him. The item is a $20 t-shirt which they naturally took back at the scene. A couple weeks later, I receive a DEMAND letter from the attorney for this mega-chain store DEMANDING their randomly set amount of $400.. "so that they wont persue this further.." it appears just like legal extortion and they attached the California Penal Code Section 490.5 to back it up. I did read it and this code gives them the right to sue the parents of a minor child. I am self employed and it has been one heck of a bad year.. this is upsetting enough and we will be called by probation as the Sheriff was notified and wrote it up. THis is a bit over kill in my opinion. My son has been grounded and has been volunteering at a church doing mailings, errands and other items to keep him busy. How do you advise me to deal with this? The $400 right now could be $1000..

Expert:  Zoey_ JD replied 6 years ago.

While I agree with you that it's overkill, the law gives stores the right to make something like this into a very expensive lesson for someone who shoplifts, and not only that, they can proceed civilly and criminally as well. So it's not a "pay up or we'll prosecute you." It's a pay up and we don't guarantee that we won't prosecute your son anyhow." That's because civil law has to do with monetary loss and damages (the humongous fines help defray the store's cost of insurance, security and their loss prevention department), while the criminal court punishes the crime.

As you have seen 490.5 (c) would indicate that $400 is not an excessive amount under the statute. There might be some who would say that you shouldn't pay, and see if they will take you to court. I'm not among them. If the sheriff is involved and they don't get it from you with the civil demand letter, they can impose it as restitution as part of a criminal court disposition.

On the criminal side of things if the store does prosecute, he should wind up with some kind of a diversion program which would allow him to work off his offense and come out without a criminal record.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it's not extortion. It's the law.

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