Q: I got a Civil demand letter from attorney representing Walmart in a retail theft, shoplifting case. It states pay to $150 to us in addition to and/or in addition to criminal charges. In FAQ section of recovery pay it states civil demand is for security etc but also to serve as deterrent against shoplifting as well as punishment for the crime. How can they punish me criminally if the loss prevention guy said that I’ll be getting a summons in the mail for the incident?? To date I haven’t received this alleged summons in the mail. Paying the civil demand would be better than going through the court. (West Mifflin, Pa)
A: Normally, most attorneys advise clients to ignore the civil demand letter especially if it is from an out of state collections attorney. However, I have had more situations over the past two years where my negotiation for a withdrawal of the charges, included paying the civil demand. It depends. An attorney can guide you through this. As advised, they can still prosecute you even if you pay the civil demand. You can try negotiating a global release of criminal and civil liability, but I would do this through an attorney.
Q: I worked at Best Buy and stole some goods over the course of 2 months. They found $600 dollars-worth of goods and I told them there was more. They came to a dollar amount of $2500 in restitution that I must pay in installments over a course of one year. I was also charged with retail theft, it is my first offense. The police officer that took me in told me I would qualify for a ARD program. He also told me he put down $600 as the dollar value on the police statement. I guess he forgot about the 2500 in restitution, but Best Buy won’t forget that. I am very afraid, I had only positive intentions when I stole, it was to help pay for bills and mortgage for my mother, my father has been unemployed for years and money is extremely tight. I made a terrible mistake and I’m paying the price for it. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: This happens to me in theft cases all the time. My client tells me it was a lower amount than what the victim is demanding. If the victim and prosecution are offering a way out of this without having a record, like ARD, you have no choice. Unless of course, you have a really good defense. My approach to these cases, is to have the charges dismissed for full restitution at the preliminary hearing. This gives my client the opportunity to use ARD in the future in case they screw up again, as it is offered only once. If the victim and prosecution will not offer dismissal for restitution deal, then you have no choice but to go with ARD. The benefit for you is that you can question the restitution amount once the ARD offer is prepared and offered to you. In Allegheny County, the ARD paralegal, will call the victim and confirm how they arrived at their damages. Maybe the victim will adjust the amount. If not, you will have to eat the $2500 to get the benefit of ARD (no conviction/no record).
Q: Back in March my son who has an anger management issue donkey kicked me down the basement steps and I sustained a fracture of my right heel. It was a very significant fracture necessitating surgery and the physician feels that I will continue to have issues the rest of my life because of it. He and his five-year-old daughter had been living with me and now that he was arrested he refuses to let me see my granddaughter. Will he have to pay the medical costs that I have incurred? Will I be awarded any pain and suffering? Will he be forced to let me see my granddaughter or will he get jail time? (Glassport, PA)
A: He is in criminal court. The only decisions will be if he is guilty and if so, does he get jail time or probation. Criminal Court can make anger management counseling part of his probation. Criminal court can order him to pay back restitution (in your case, out of pocket medical expenses) over the course of his probation. Criminal Court can order him to have no contact with you. Criminal Court cannot award pain and suffering. Criminal court cannot do anything with custody of visitation of your daughter. If he gets jail time, unless the mother of the child is able and willing to parent, you may be eligible to be awarded temporary custody in Family Court. You may want to contact a Family lawyer to ask in the event your son is incarcerated, or a no contact order is invoked, if you have standing to file for custody or visitation with your grandchild.
Q: I just saw my probation officer today and I expressed that I really want to get off of probation next year. It ends in five years. However, the amount I still owed is lower but not the full amount. The probation is in Westmoreland County. But I’m supervised in Allegheny. My PA said that the county might not let me off until the monies are paid in full and my probation will be extended if I do not meet the deadline. Is there any other option I can go with beside paying it all off in one-year. Will it help getting a lawyer, paying off half in one year or something? Should I rob a bank?
A: Normally, a probation case cannot close until all conditions are met, including restitution. However, I would review all the facts with local counsel and see if it is worth filing a Motion for Early Termination of probation. For example, if the victim to whom restitution is owed will accept a negotiated lowered lump sum payment and the DA agrees, maybe it can happen. I did this once or twice over the years. The chances are against you but it might be worth asking.
Q: I was given ARD probation of one-year for a DUI. This is my tenth month on ARD and have completed all the conditions of my ARD program except for the 30 hours of community service, which I will complete before my ARD term is over. The only other condition I have not completed is the $3,000 in fines and restitution. I am a student and working every day to get a job.
A: You do not want to lose your ARD. Try to get an extension from the ARD probation officer. If you are summoned to the court for an ARD revocation hearing, be prepared. If you cannot afford counsel, bring all records of your bills, and income to prove to the judge that you are trying but are financially limited.
Q: My case is about 15 years old and I got charged with a misdemeanor of carrying a gun on a public street and welfare fraud I am trying to get this pardoned now and I can’t afford the restitution as my income is too low is there any way to get it lowered or dismissed?
A: You are way out of the time limitations on filing a motion to modify your sentence, or appeal the legality of the restitution order. You can still hire a lawyer to file a motion based on some sort of hardship-even though you are way beyond the time limits to do so. The DA has a duty to inform the victim. If the victim and the DA consent to your request, the judge would be more likely to grant your request. If they don’t, the judge will be less likely to do so, but still might. Be aware, you could easily be denied on the time limit issue. You will obviously have to establish a compelling reason for this to be considered. You need to go over all of the facts with an attorney to see if it is worth it.
Q: My son was convicted of burglary with 2 others and their restitution is combined. Is there a way to get it separated? It is understandable that they should pay all restitution. I have no problem with that. With the combined restitution there is no incentive to pay more on the fine and get it paid off, if the other 2 just pay the minimum. Is there a way to modify this, so he can get his paid off, and if one of the others dies, he can then again be held liable along with the other remaining person. With this being as is, my son is not serving a 2 to 8 sentence he received. It is more or less a life sentence. Just seems to me the system is set up to make you fail, instead of doing your sentence and fulfill your obligations to society. Would be nice to get something like this amended so he can try to move forward. Any advice would be appreciated thank you.
A: Restitution, if not paid at sentencing and apportioned between the defendants, in most counties is ordered to be paid jointly and severally with other co-defendants to maximize the chance of it actually getting paid. Joint and several means they are all responsible to pay the full amount to the extent it remains unpaid by the other participants. The victim is likely out property or had to pay to have his or her building or structure repaired. The victim also may have loss more than just property, like his or her sense of security and safety. Thus, judges are unlikely to divide up restitution between the participants because the victim might not get paid in that situation. Too much time has passed to have an attorney file a written motion to modify sentence. The only way in my opinion that a restitution order could be changed would be by agreement of the victim and the DA. I don’t know the facts here, anything is possible. This would generally be difficult to accomplish. So, for now, your son should do his best to pay the restitution to help make the victim whole and avoid a parole violation.
Q: I have a hearing in a few days for violation of probation for restitution. I have always tried to give something as well making payments of $500-$900 during tax time. I am a single mother of four and have no income except from my part time job. Will they send me to jail that day I am so scared?
A.I really don’t know enough about your case to advise you as to whether the judge will put you in jail. If you pay something per month, or at least have made some payments, and, if you have not violated your probation in a major way like hot urine tests, new arrests, etc., the judge will probably be sympathetic to your situation. Bring proof of payments to the hearing. I would also bring proof of income and proof of household expenses and children’s unusual expenses to the hearing.