Law Offices of Jeffrey W. Jensen 111 E. Wisconsin Ave., Suite 1925 Milwaukee, WI 53202-4825
Jeffrey W. Jensen is a criminal defense lawyer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is also a criminal appeals lawyer in Wisconsin.
BULLET BRIEF: What if I get a letter from a "law firm" demanding $300 damages?
Over the past few years, whenever a person is charged with retail theft (shoplifting) from a large merchant, he or she frequently receives a letter from a law firm-- usually from some other state-- demanding $300 damages. This is because Sec. 943.51, Stats., provides for exemplary civil damages of up to $300 for each offense. The statute provides that this is in addition to any criminal fines imposed.
Clients frequently ask, "Should I pay this?" This $300 in exemplary civil damages is not the same as making restitution. Firstly, these "law firms" that send the letters likely are law firms in name only. In reality, they are large businesses, probably run by a lawyer, that send out thousands of these letters per day (depending on how many merchants the law firm has as clients). We don't know exactly what the fee arrangement is between the "law firm" and the business, but it is safe to assume that the law firm keeps a percentage of the money received. In other words, the merchant probably will not even know that you made the payment.
Nevertheless, the statute is clear. If the plaintiff (merchant) can prove that the defendant committed retail theft, then the court must award the merchant exemplary damages.
As a practical matter, the real question is, if you don't informally agree to pay the exemplary damages, will the merchant file a law suit. As a matter of practical experience, I have never had a client come to me with a civil lawsuit for exemplary retail theft damages. This makes perfect sense. It is not cost-effective for a merchant to pay a lawyer to sue a person for $300. Thus, if you do not pay, it seems like there is little chance that you will be sued in civil court.
Although a criminal conviction for retail theft is not a prerequisite to bringing a civil action under the statute, the plaintiff (merchant) in a civil case must prove a violation of the retail theft statute. Certainly, this is made much easier if the defendant has been convicted of retail theft in criminal court. Therefore, even if you intend to pay the civil exemplary damages, you should wait until your criminal case is resolved. If you are found not guilty, or if the case is dismissed, you might consider holding the plaintiff (merchant) to its burden of proof in civil case that is very unlikely to happen.
Milwaukee criminal defense attorney Jeffrey W. Jensen, of the Law Offices of Jeffrey W. Jensen, a Milwaukee law firm with offices located at 111 E. Wisconsin Avenue, Suite 1925, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has represented persons throughout the State of Wisconsin. If you will face felony charges in either state court or in federal court you should call 414.671.9484. Attorney Jensen regularly appears in Milwaukee County (Milwaukee criminal defense lawyer), Waukesha County (Waukesha criminal defense lawyer, Brookfield criminal defense lawyer), Washington County (West Bend and Germantown criminal defense lawyer), Racine County (Racine criminal defense lawyer), Kenosha County (Kenosha criminal defense lawyer), Brown County (Green Bay criminal defense lawyer), Fond du Lac County (Fond du Lac criminal defense lawyer), and Winnebago County (Oshkosh criminal defense lawyer)
The material on this site is a product of the Law Offices of Jeffrey W. Jensen. Unless otherwise noted it may be used for any legal purpose with attribution.