If you’re arrested for stealing merchandise from a New York City retail store, the store will demand that you pay a “civil penalty” for shoplifting. Unless your lawyer advises otherwise, don’t pay the civil penalty.
This is language from a written demand that a Macy’s lawyer sends to all people arrested at the “Miracle on 34th Street” store for shoplifting:
Please be advised that The Law Offices of [____________] is the counsel for [____________] in this matter. This letter is in in reference to the theft incident [____________]. Under New York
General Obligations Law§ 11-105, [____________] has a civil claim against you because you intentionally deprived [____________] of merchandise without paying for it. This claim is separate from and in addition to any criminal action arising from your misconduct. You may be held civilly liable for the cost of the merchandise; the costs associated with loss prevention expenses and/or a civil penalty.
This letter is a demand that you pay $500.00 in satisfaction of this civil claim. This is not an attempt to collect a debt. If you do not believe that you are the person responsible for the payment of this claim, please notify [____________] within 30 days of receipt of this letter, so that we can obtain verification of the responsible party.
Please make your payment of $500.00 to [____________] and send it to: [____________]
Acceptable forms of payment include cash, money order, certified check, personal check, and all major credit cards. If you have any questions or would like to pay by either credit card or check, please visit our website at [____________] or call our office toll free at [____________] between 8:00AM – 11:00 PM (Eastern Standard Time), Monday through Friday, and 10:00AM – 7:00PM (Eastern Standard Time), Saturday. Please note that there is a processing fee when paying by check or credit card over the telephone or on our website.
If we do not receive payment within 30 days from the date of this letter, [____________] may make further effort to enforce its rights under this law.
Retailers may sue shoplifters for a civil penalty, calculated by multiplying the value of stolen merchandise by five; with a minimum penalty is $75, and a maximum penalty of $500. (Retailers can additionally seek restitution for the value of merchandise that is lost or damaged as a result of theft, up to $1,500.)
Retailers’ authority to sue is set forth under Section 11-105 of the General Obligations Law:
An adult or emancipated minor who commits larceny against the property of a mercantile establishment shall be civilly liable to the operator of such establishment in an amount consisting of:
(a) the retail price of the merchandise if not recovered in merchantable condition up to an amount not to exceed fifteen hundred dollars; plus
(b) a penalty not to exceed the greater of five times the retail price of the merchandise or seventy-five dollars; provided, however, that in no event shall such penalty exceed five hundred dollars.
There are two situations where retail stores attempt to get alleged shoplifters to pay the civil penalty: 1) in person, while the alleged shoplifter is in custody at the time of arrest; and 2) through the mail, after the alleged shoplifter has returned home.
Do not pay under either scenario, unless your lawyer advises you otherwise.