Legal Question in Criminal Law in California

I am new mom, & was caught for shoplifting at WinCo Foods, in California. It was an honest mistake; my 6mth old daughter was sitting in the card & playing with the Gerber snack bag, that I got her. As my purse diaper bag was sitting right there, must have accidentally put it in there. As I am always carrying snacks, milk in her diaper bag, I did not realize that the Gerber snack bag, in my Diaper was the one I had just gotten it.

When we walked out of Winco Foods, CA there was cop & a store employee was waiting, & took me there office above. They wanted me to sign paper that said, I can no longer go to any Winco Foods, for 100 yrs. Also, I am being fined for $250 + $2.48, for the goods.

I had made a purchase of $51 so why would I steal a $2 item.

The lady cop, was rude, & I asked several times, is there way to fight it or talk to someone, even talk to the store manger. She told me, there is no one besides her I can talk. After I leave the store, I cannot even call the store or talk to the manger or anyone else about it.

At this point, I donít care about ever care about going back to Winco, as they donít even give an option.

The question that I have is since there was no criminal action taken, is my file closed? I wonder who has access to this information and will it follow me for years to come, or can I stop worrying and put it behind me? I just dont want this kept secret and to forget all about it. Is there a way I can fight it somehow, or even do community service. Even though I had not meant to steal anything, it was done unknowingly.

This was my first time, & am scared that is my life over.

Asked on 1/24/11, 8:46 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Joe Dane Law Office of Joe Dane

I'm not clear from your question if the police were involved or not. You said the "lady cop" but I'm not sure if you mean loss prevention from the store or the real police.

The store cannot impose a "fine" against you. That $250 is a "civil demand" letter sent by law firms that do nothing but send threatening letters to people accused of shoplifting. If you choose to pay it, it just means they won't sue you in small claims court. Guess what - they won't anyway. Why? Because it's not worth their time. The law firm skims a percentage off the top of any money people pay and the rest goes to the store. If you just ignore their demand letters, are they really going to sue for $2.50? No.

If the police were involved, then things are different. If you were cited to appear in court, then you have to take this seriously, even though it's a $2 item. You will absolutely need a criminal defense attorney to represent you.

You said that there was no criminal action taken. Is that because the police weren't called? If so, then you're right - the odds are that no criminal charges will ever be filed as a result of this unless the police were called that day.

Don't pay their outrageous demand amount, ignore them completely and eventually they'll let it go. Just stay out of those stores, as they probably had you sign a trespass warning and just setting foot in there, even if you intend to shop, means they can have you arrested for trespassing.

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Answered on 3/01/11, 6:40 am

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