Q: My 16-year-old autistic son went to a store last week by himself. He was arrested for stealing $5.53 worth of donuts and candy. He was cuffed and taken to a police station to be fingerprinted and all without me. When I got there, I was not able to go in the center. My son came out and they gave me a citation. He now has a plea hearing on April 29th. Do we need a lawyer? Can charges be dropped since he is autistic? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: If they questioned him, they should have called you first for consent. The charges could potentially be dropped whether or not he has an attorney, given his age and it is presumed to be his first offense. You will have a better chance of accomplishing this result with a lawyer.
Q: I was convicted of retail theft and I was not sure of my mistake because I was very sick and lost my debit card and went back to retrieve it. Also, I have been sick for 2 weeks since the incident happened. I was on medication but was not sure what happened but was willing to pay for everything. They stopped me when leaving but the guy was not listening and told me it’s too late. I think I forgot because I was too worried about my debit card and had stress on my mind. I want the charges dropped. I don’t want it on my record and need of a defender. What should I do? It will ruin my life if I get charged. How do I get a Public Defender as I have no job right now? (West Homestead, PA)
A: Stop the drama and talk to an attorney. In Allegheny County, there is a first -time offender’s program for Retail Theft whereby you don’t admit guilt, you complete a class on the evils of Retail Theft and the charge is withdrawn. After that you can pay an attorney to expunge your arrest record, and then you will have a clean record. I do this all the time. Call a private attorney or sign up with the PD. The Allegheny County PD is in room 400 of the County Office Building in downtown Pittsburgh at the corner of Forbes and Ross St. You can go there or call. There number might be 412-350-2401. If you are computer savvy, just look them up. They require that you apply a week in advance of your hearing, so get on it. Good Luck!
Q: I was arrested at Giant Eagle fir an item costing 3.50. I have three priors. A summary from 7 years ago for retail. A second retail and a third that got moved to traffic fine and don’t know why. Would it be best to hire an attorney or just get public defender? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: As stated, a third retail theft is a Felony III. It is not to be taken lightly, but in Allegheny County, I get a lot of these worked out at the District Justice level to a summary. Many people have the view that sending a F3 Retail Theft downtown is a waste of resources. Let’s hope your Assistant DA and police officer have the same view. An attorney would help in such a situation. He might be able to direct you to do certain things before the hearing to put you in a better light by the time the hearing comes around. Drug and alcohol evaluation, possibly? Most retail thefts arise out of drug addiction. Additionally, Public Defenders are generally very good attorneys. They are specializing in one are of law. If you feel a private attorney will give more attention to your case, then choose a private attorney.
Q: On 11/14/2018 I was caught shoplifting an item that was $5. The man who detained me said he recognized me from stealing there before (an item that was $25). He said he wasn’t going to call the cops and he didn’t. He just took down my info from my driver’s license, my Social Security Number, the make and model of my car, and took my picture. I also signed a letter admitting what I stole and wrote down what I stole. There was another target employee in there as a witness. Two weeks later I received a letter from The Law Offices of Michael Ira Asen, P.C. stating I owe $175. If I don’t pay this, what will happen? Should I pay it? I’ve researched and seen many lawyers say that you should not pay it because it’s an empty threat. However, I’m scared if I don’t, they will take legal action. I’m terrified. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Do not pay this. I believe this attorney is located in another state, like NJ or NY. He will not come to Pittsburgh to sue you for $175.00. He has some scheme with Target, whereby he will send them a chunk of what he collects from you. His collection has nothing to do with any potential criminal case against you if Target chooses to file. If you do receive a summary Retail Theft charge from Target, see an attorney.
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: Last month I let someone borrow my car and they were caught shoplifting a single food item from a gas station. The person gave the item back to the manager, but she wanted their ID. The person said no and left in my vehicle and the manager ended up getting the license plate number. Three days ago, the police called my place of work and left a message wanting to know who I let use the car. That same day they showed up at my last place of residence but the people who live there now don’t know anything about me. I am not going to tell the police who borrowed my car so what should I expect to happen. (Penn Hills, PA)
A: Even if the police suspect you are not the perpetrator, they could arrest you just to put pressure on you to give information. If I had to guess, I doubt it because the crime is very minor-likely to be a summary retail theft-and the item was returned. If you are arrested or cited, and you still want play hardball, just go through the process and it is likely (hopefully) that the store manager will not identify you. If you go that route, do it with 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: I am being accused of retail theft second offense, misdemeanor 2. How do I get a copy of video surveillance and what is punishment? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: To be charged with a Retail Theft Misdemeanor 2, this would need to be your second offense and the merchandise valued under $150.00. You will have better options if represented by an attorney. To obtain the video prior to your preliminary hearing, will require an attorney as the police nor victim have any duty to let you view it at this stage. The attorney can ask to view it informally, and if necessary, request a subpoena duces tecum be issued by the Magisterial District Justice Office having jurisdiction over the matter. If your case is held for court, you can obtain it through the discovery process after the Formal Arraignment. An attorney can better guide you through this maze.
Q: I was in a gas station last night and no one was in there, the cashier probably in the bathroom. I took an item under 5 dollars, the cameras most likely didn’t see me. Just due to the fact on how I did it. If they somehow found out or see footage what can happen? Will they press charges since it was under 5 dollars? I feel horrible for what I did since I never do anything like that but I want to know what are the steps in this case. (West Mifflin, PA)
A: If they have evidence against you, can identify you, and wish to press charges, they can charge you. You will be charged with a summary Retail Theft offense and it can be sent via the summons process, which is basically by mail. Usually it is mailed both certified mail, return receipt and regular mail. If you receive such mailing, see a lawyer immediately.
Q: I was going through the self-checkout line at Walmart and didn’t scan some items a few years ago. This was my first offense and first time EVER getting in trouble with the law. This has since been expunged. Do I have a shot at being a 911 operator and will this show up since it’s expunged? (West Homestead, PA)
A: If your expungement order went through, it should wipe out any trace of your conviction. For example, if you order your criminal history from the PA State Police, it should be clean. However, can anyone promise this? Probably not. It is accepted in Allegheny County that the DA can determine if anyone received ARD on a prior arrest. ARD records are expunged, but somehow the DA keeps this record for presumably for ARD purposes. I would check to see if your expungement was successful by obtaining your criminal history. If it was, apply for the job. If asked about it, be honest. I assume your retail theft was a summary offense for which you were given a citation? You therefore would state that you were issued a citation for retail theft.