First-time offenders arrested for shoplifting at large department stores in New York (such as Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Century 21, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, or Uniqlo) typically receive Desk Appearance Tickets, or DATS, from the police. (For more on shoplifting and petit larceny arrests, click here and here.). However, many shoplifting defendants also soon receive letters from lawyers representing the stores containing civil demands for financial settlements pursuant to New York General Obligations Law §11-105.
Stores actually do have the right to pursue civil claims for monetary damages against shoplifting defendants, even in cases in which the property was recovered and undamaged. General Obligations Law §11-105 explains thusly:
§ 11-105. Larceny in mercantile establishments. 1. When used in this section, the term "mercantile establishment" shall mean a place or vehicle where goods, wares or merchandise are offered for sale or a place or vehicle from which deliveries of goods, wares or merchandise are made. 2. When used in this section, the term "larceny" is an act heretofore defined or known as common law larceny by trespassory taking as defined in paragraph (a) of subdivision two of section 155.05 of the penal law committed against the property of a mercantile establishment. 3. When used in this section, the term "emancipated minor" shall mean a person who was over the age of sixteen at the time of the alleged larceny and who was no longer a dependent of or in the custody of a parent or legal guardian. 4. In any proceeding brought under this section the burden of proof shall be by a preponderance of the evidence. 5. 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. 6. Parents or legal guardians of an unemancipated minor shall be civilly liable for said minor who commits larceny against the property of a mercantile establishment 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. 7. A conviction or a plea of guilty for committing larceny is not a prerequisite to the bringing of a civil suit, obtaining a judgment, or collecting that judgment under this section. 8. The fact that an operator of a mercantile establishment may bring an action against an individual as provided in this section shall not limit the right of such merchant to demand, orally or in writing, that a person who is liable for damages and penalties under this section remit the damages and penalties prior to the commencement of any legal action. 9. In any action brought under subdivision six of this section, the court shall consider in the interest of justice mitigating circumstances that bear directly upon the actions of the parent or legal guardian in supervising the unemancipated minor who committed the larceny. 10. An action for recovery of damages and penalties under this section may be brought in any court of competent jurisdiction. 11. The provisions of this section shall not be construed to prohibit or limit any other cause of action which an operator of a mercantile establishment may have against a person who unlawfully takes merchandise from the mercantile establishment. 12. Any testimony or statements of the defendant or unemancipated minor child of the defendant or any evidence derived from an attempt to reach a civil settlement or from a civil proceeding brought under this section shall be inadmissible in any other court proceeding relating to such larceny.
As explained above, even in cases in which the merchandise is recovered (which is usually the case for people arrested for shoplifting), the store can demand either five times the value of the stolen merchandise (up to $500), or $75. Sometimes the civil penalties can be reduced through negotiation, or an arrested person can ignore the demand and risk being sued in civil court.
If you or a loved one have been arrested for shoplifting, you should strongly consider retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney. A good lawyer can minimize your headaches – both civil and criminal – and maybe even prevent you from receiving a permanent criminal record.