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Petit Theft Civil Penalties

As if being charged with a crime isn't enough, our legislature has decided to pile on a 'civil remedy' in theft cases. For a person charged with Petit Theft or Grand Theft, this extra 'fine' typically comes in the form of a letter from a big law firm demanding a 'settlement offer' regarding your recent theft arrest.

Is this legal? Yes, unfortunately. But don't to worry, criminal lawyer John Guidry can help you fight this civil penalty. The main thrust of fighting such a demand involves having the store provide proof that they suffered "actual damages". Florida courts have determined that when a store is the victim of a theft, they are NOT automatically entitled to damages from an accused citizen. Rather, the store must prove they suffered actual losses.

So, for example, what happens when a Loss Prevention Officer discovers someone stealing, and catches them with the goods after leaving the store? Some Florida courts have held the store suffered no "loss". The Loss Prevention Officer was already on salary to do that job, and assuming the goods were returned in a condition ready to be re-sold, there were no actual damages. As you can see from an excerpt of the law given below, stores have relied on the "minimum $200" rule when requesting damages, but rarely are the stores actually able to provide proof they suffered any loss. The law can be found in Section 772.11 of the Florida Statutes. It basically says that a business or person who proves injury due to a theft allegation may collect three times their actual damages sustained and, is always allowed at least $200 in damages plus reasonable attorney's fees and court costs. The 'theft victim' store must demand these damages in writing

Example Settlement Letter for Petit Theft Civil Fee

(this example below is fictitious, any resemblance this letter has to actual law firms, defendants, or cases is mere coincidence, this is for demonstration and educational purposes only)





Dear Mr./Ms. Defendant:

This law firm represents DEPARTMENT STORE concerning its civil penalty claim against you in connection with an incident in their store at the Millenia Mall on February 15, 2010.

Pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 772.11, a civil remedies act, DEPARTMENT STORE may consider moving forward with a statutory civil damages claim against you.

We ask that you settle this matter by making payment to us in the amount of $200.00 within thirty (30) days of the date of this letter. Upon receipt of your full payment and clearance of funds, you will receive a written release of the civil "penalty" claim.

Payment should be made payable and mailed to the Law Office of DEWEY, CHEATUM & HOWE, P.A.. Please include the file number shown above on your payment.

Should payment fail to be made on time or payment arrangements not be set up within the above stated time period, we may review the matter for the possibility of recommending that our client take further civil action and depending on the state law, may choose to make a higher settlement request on behalf o four client. DEPARTMENT STORE may in the future consider filing a lawsuit, in which case it will likely seek any available attorney's fees, court costs and other legal expenses throughout such litigation. Any defending party to such a lawsuit would likely be served by a process server with a summons requiring the party or the party's attorney to respond and/or appear in court to defend the action. If successful in any such litigation, we estimate that DEPARTMENT STORE would be seeking a final judgment, which would include damages, our legal fees, and court costs up to the maximum amounts allowed by law which could therefore, exceed the amount demanded above.

We strongly encourage you to make payment within the time period requested above to avoid further civil requests.


Mr. Jones
Parter in Dewey, Cheatum, & Howe, P.A.

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