I just recieved a "Notice of Complaint Filed" by the D.A., for 666/484(a)/488 Pc Theft w/prior conviction (I have to appear to enter a plea). Back in September, I went to get my hair done at a salon in Costa Mesa. The girl who did my hair, ruined my hair. A horrible cut and non-requested orange highlights. Before she could finish the cut, I got up and left and didn't pay. I was extremely upset with what she did. A few days ago, I get this "Notice" of theft. I didn't steal anything. Its a service. If I were to paint someone's home and did a horrible job I wouldn't get paid. I'd have to take them to small claims. Isn't this the same thing? Can they do that? What do I do? I cant afford an attorney. Any and all advice is very welcome.
P.S. Prior conviction was from when I was 18, Im 34 now. Short story, followed Public Defenders advice and unfortunately now have a conviction, charge- PC 148 5A.
3 Answers from Attorneys
If your only prior conviction is for Penal Code section 148.5, that doesn't qualify as a prior theft offense to make this new one a petty theft with a prior. Are you sure that's the code section your prior is for?
From what you wrote, this should be at best a civil dispute and a small claims case, not a criminal case. Yes, there is theft of services, but they would have to prove you had no intent to pay for the services at the time you received them, rather than refused to pay for substandard work. Your house painting analogy is on the money. It's essentially a contract dispute.
This sounds like a ridiculous case and should be thrown out, but apparently somebody in the Orange County DA's office thought enough of it to file a case against you, so you're going to have to fight. Either consult with attorneys before your court date and see if you can afford their services. If you hire an attorney, they can appear on your behalf. Or, when you go to court, ask for a public defender to be appointed. Be careful that first day - often the judge will make offers and let you speak to the DA about settling your case. They're looking to settle by way of a plea - something I wouldn't suggest in your case without discussing the facts and reviewing the police report first.
Can they do it? Yes, they already did. It may be a ridiculous case, but that notice means you are facing criminal charges that you can't ignore or 'hope' to just go away. Properly handled by your attorney, it may be possible to get it dismissed through a civil compromise negotiated by your attorney. If not, your attorney should at least be able to get it pled in a way that you would end up without a criminal record. If serious about getting legal counsel, then feel free to contact me.
Your scenario is a classic example of what is known as an implied contract. You are correct in stating that you feel it is a civil matter, as the salon would have a civil action against you for breach of an implied contract. With that stated, however, it is wrong to assume that simply because a thing is a civil matter, that it does not have criminal consequences. Some civil wrongs also carry criminal penalties.
I strongly suggest that you seek legal counsel. If you do not want to plea bargain and plead guilty, you have a right to tell your public defender that you do not want to plead guilty.