WA state. Can there be a criminal shoplift charge if no police called? Can there be if one ignores the civil action letter?

Asked about 3 years ago - Seattle, WA

After paying for the items, as I was leaving the store, was stopped on allegation I'd been seen changing price/prices (not specified). Very embarassed, I said things that could be construed as admission. They copied ID info and took my picture. Not asked to sign anything and no police called. Store kept all items, even ones they knew I could not possibly have changed and some in purse I could not prove I had previously bought - they still had store stickers but I no longer had a receipt. They did not return my check. Items were second hand, worth $50 at most. No damage to items.
Received civil action letter from Palmer et al, wanting $343, saying that paying it doesn't affect criminal charge. Can there be a criminal charge if no police/arrest? What charge if I ignore the letter?

Attorney answers (3)

  1. Jonathan A Baner

    Contributor Level 10

    Answered . You'll want to navigate this very carefully. You paying for any damages directly to the store has no legal effect whatsoever on State's ability to charge you. Practically, a business has more sway over prosecution deciding to prosecute or not than ordinary individual would.

    Any opinions, remarks, statements, or implications thereof made by me do not constitute legal advice. Such... more
  2. Scott Weymouth Lawrence

    Pro

    Contributor Level 18

    Answered . There are two separate actions you may have to deal with when accused of shoplifting. First is a civil action. Under Washington Law, the store can demand a civil penalty equal to the cost of the items, up to a $600 penalty and additional costs and fees. The criminal charge and the civil action are not connected and whether or not you pay this has nothing to do with whether you are charged with a crime (except that your attorney may be able to arrange a Misdemeanor Compromise, in which charges are dropped if the amount is paid). If you do not pay the demand, the only remedy the store has is to sue you for them money.

    Next is the criminal charge. You do not have to be arrested at the time to be charged. The City has up to two years from the date of the incident to file charges. You should make sure the court has a good mailing address so that you don't miss the notice and get a warrant. You should not ignore the criminal part of this as a Theft conviction can have a profound affect on your ability to get a job, not to mention jail fines and probation.

    You may also have been "trespassed" from the store. Do not return to the store without clearing it with the store or you may face further criminal charges for Trespassing.

    There are lots of creative ways to resolve a Theft charge that can keep this from being a life-altering event. Get a lawyer to help you get through this with as little damage as possible.

    The answer provided is for educational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or create an attorney-... more
  3. Jennifer Ellen Horwitz

    Pro

    Contributor Level 8

    Answered . You should get a lawyer involved before you respond to the civil action letter. Making the payment demanded in the letter is no guarantee against criminal charges -- as the letter is a demand for civil damages. If you do end up being charged, your criminal lawyer may be able to wrap up the civil demand in the resolution of the criminal case, if the case does get resolved. Some type of report to law enforcement must be made in order for a case to be considered by a prosecutor's office for the filing of charges. The fact that the police were not called while you were present does not mean they were not contacted later by the store. If the store served you with a trespass notice, you should not return to the store. If you got an attorney involved, that person could try to figure out if this has been reported to law enforcement and contact the deputy prosecutor considering the case and possibly have an impact on whether and what charges are ultimately filed.

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