Allegations of theft usually take place at large retail stores like Target, Sears, and Walmart. These establishments have their own security protocols in place, including but not limited to: guards, cameras, detectors, and other devices. These steps prevent merchandise from being taken unlawfully.
Despite these steps, people will sometimes take an item without consent. When this happens, the injured store will send a civil restitution demand letter to the perpetrator. Further, a theft charge is usually filed against the individual shortly thereafter. A misdemeanor or felony carries possible jail time, fines, and a permanent criminal record, which could affect employment in the future. So, theft can lead to both a civil and criminal case.
Under California law, when a person is charged with a theft crime, like petty theft, there may be an opportunity to have the charge dismissed.
A civil compromise is one way that a criminal charge can be dismissed. Pursuant to Penal Code section 1378, an injured party may indicate to the court that it has “received satisfaction” for the injury. In other words, the victim of the theft can represent to the judge that there was an agreement made between the parties. At that point, the trial court, in its discretion, may stay the prosecution and order the defendant to be discharged. The case cannot be adjudicated again. Let me be clear though that the judge is not obligated to accept a 1378 civil compromise. Also, a victim may not be open to a civil compromise.
While every company does not offer this type of civil compromise, a criminal defense attorney can certainly explore this option.
Moreover, a civil compromise is not the only way to successfully defend against a theft charge. A defendant may be able to argue insufficient evidence, or mistaken identity. There have been instances where an employee at the store made false accusations. A video may vindicate a defendant.
Similar to a drug diversion, sometimes a defendant can even receive a conditional dismissal. A conditional dismissal means that a court will eventually dismiss the case after a condition has been met.
My office has negotiated conditional dismissals in past theft cases. For example, one client had his petty theft charge dismissed after he completed 10 hours of theft classes. Such plea bargains enable the defendant to avoid jail time and other negative consequences.
Regardless of the different ways a case can proceed forward, it is important to have a criminal defense lawyer retained on your case. Experience and commitment goes a long way in a theft case. We welcome your calls and questions.