I was caught shoplifting and now the store wants money. Do I need to pay?

By Jose Ceja
Managing Attorney

Shoplifting is one of the most common offenses in Texas and the Houston area. If you are arrested for shoplifting, you can expect to get cited or arrested and face a criminal charge for theft. But one additional consequence of a shoplifting arrest is that the retailer that you allegedly shoplifted from may send you a letter demanding that you pay money. 

What is a civil demand letter in a shoplifting case? 

Most of the time, a few weeks after a Texas shoplifting arrest, a store will send a letter to your home demanding that you pay several hundred dollars and threatening further legal action if the amount is not paid. These letters can have a very threatening tone, and many people feel pressured to pay the money.

Shoplifting demand letter

Under Texas law, there is indeed a legal basis for collecting money from a person who has committed a theft, but it is likely not applicable to most shoplifting cases. Under the Texas Theft Liability Act, retailers (or anyone who has sustained damages due to a theft) may be able to recover money from a person who commits theft. However, the statute requires that a person sustain “actual damages,” which the store would probably not have suffered if the items were returned to the store. 

In theory, a store could pursue legal action against you under the Texas Theft Liability Act, but there is a strong consensus among criminal defense lawyers that unless the store actually suffered a loss of merchandise, the retailer would never take legal action. Although you should always consult with your attorney before making any decision affecting your shoplifting case, in many cases, these letters can safely be ignored.

The reality is that large retailers send out hundreds of these letters every year and that even though they do not actually have a claim against the vast majority of shoplifters, many people are scared and will simply pay the money (another issue is that many of the firms that send these letters are not even authorized to practice in Texas). As a result, it is common practice for large retailers such as Wal-Mart or Target to send these letters. 

Does the demand letter have any effect on a criminal case?

Although you should always consult with your attorney prior to taking any action on your case, it is unlikely that paying or not paying a civil demand letter will have any impact on your case. In theory, there could be a situation where you pay a civil demand, and then that fact is used against you in a criminal trial, but the chance of that happening is remote for many reasons. 

The goal of a shoplifting case should always be to obtain a dismissal of the charge and an expunction of the case. If you have been arrested for shoplifting in Houston, call Ceja Law Firm today. Our attorneys are highly experienced in defending shoplifting cases and can help guide you through the process and maximize your chances of an excellent result. 

About the Author
Jose Ceja is the managing attorney of Ceja Law Firm. He has practiced law since 2007 and has devoted his career to the practice of criminal law. Mr. Ceja began his legal career as a felony drug prosecutor, where he prosecuted drug, gang, and violent offenses. Mr. Ceja has first or second chaired almost 100 trials, including murders, drug cases, DWIs, and assaults. In his career as a defense attorney, he has regularly obtained dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and grand jury “no bills” in a wide variety of cases.