You will NOT be arrested if or when you pay the $375. The letter you received is a civil demand letter. A civil action is separate and independent of any criminal action against you. When you were stopped for shoplifting at the CVS, the store had two options: seek to have you charged criminally and/or seek to have you pay a civil demand.
Paying the civil demand does not prevent the store in any way from seeking criminal charges against you, nor does failure to pay the civil demand necessitate that criminal charges be brought against you. CVS can institute a small claims action against you for refusing to pay the civil demand, but I have never encountered a time when a store actually does file a small claims action when the civil demand is not paid.
If CVS has decided to seek a criminal complaint against you for the shoplifting, you will receive a notice to appear at a clerk-magistrate's hearing in the mail. At this hearing, the clerk will decide if there is probable cause to issue the complaint against you. If the clerk issues the complaint, you will be scheduled for an arraignment. If you are arraigned, this charge will appear on your record. The smart move is to hire an attorney to represent you at the clerk's hearing to convince the clerk to keep this matter at the clerk's level and short of an arraignment, thereby preserving your record.
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This is a common question on Avvo. Almost all states have some version of this law, which allows stores to sue for the cost of loss prevention.
Without trying speaking for other attorneys, I would say the general consensus of the lawyers on AVVO (that I have seen) is that you shouldn’t pay. Can they sue you? Absolutely. Do they? Well, in my 15 years of practice I have never seen a client have a lawsuit filed against them on this issue.
You do have several choices:
You can pay it,
You can ignore it, or
You can try to negotiate.
If you pay it the file will close. If you try to negotiate it that may work, but there are no guarantees.
If you ignore it they will send you more and more letters asking for more and more money. These firms are very persistent. If you choose not to respond, be prepared for more letters, phone calls and the like. I have actually had client's pay simply to stop the mail and phone calls, which is exactly the intention. Eventually it seems to die away, but you are going to have to be patient if that is the course you choose.
I do not know what store you are involved with, or which law firm sent the letter, but as an example, one of the major firms doing this is Palmer, Reifler & Associates. They represent several major national chain stores. They have been accused of ethical violations and themselves have been sued over their practices. There is a Wall Street Journal article about them and these situations.
Despite sending thousands of these letters every month the firm sues fewer than 10 people per year on average as of 2008.
They will advise (threaten) you that they can sue you for much more money. All of it is true. However, I have never actually seen them file suit. Which does not mean they won't, just that I do not know personally of an example.
An exception to this is that many smaller retail organizations have the matter handled by their corporate counsel, and those agencies do file suit more often.
You should contact a local lawyer directly to assess the likelihood of a lawsuit from one of the smaller local stores or chains.
Furthermore, there is no relation between the civil demand letters and any criminal charges.
Please understand that answering this doesn’t create an attorney/client relationship between us, and as hard as I try to answer your question well, it isn’t legal advice. No matter how much information you put into a question, the answers you are going to get are still going to be vague. It is in your interest to contact a lawyer, most of whom will do a free consultation. Even 15 minutes with a lawyer is going to produce a more specific answer to your problem.
Attorney Pang is absolutely correct. Unfortunately in Massachusetts you can be sued civilly and charged criminally for the same offense.
It is ultimately up to the local police department to decide if they are going to press criminal charges against you - and in that case you would get summonsed in for a hearing before a Clerk Magistrate. In my opinion, the best time to bring a lawyer with you to court when you are facing charges is at that hearing, because with minor charges you can often get the Complaint not to issue and protect yourself from having a record.