The most commonly prosecuted theft offenses involve the alleged taking of property from a retail merchant. Often the dollar value of the items is relatively small and the accused has no prior criminal record. Yet a conviction for petty theft is a serious matter. The law requires at least one day in jail, a “book and release” that can take as long as 20 hours to accomplish, a fine and possibly a theft counseling class for another 8 hours. The maximum sentence is up to 6 months in jail and a $2,000.00 fine. And the stigma from a petty theft conviction is difficult to overcome. Employers are understandably reluctant to hire a convicted thief.
San Diego criminal defense attorneys often negotiate lesser offenses in these cases – especially to avoid jail – but the possible availability of a civil compromise is rarely explored.
In fact, in many other matters where a person is charged with a misdemeanor and the misdemeanor resulted in a victim incurring financial loss, the defendant’s charge may be dismissed through the process of civil compromise. Charges of minor vandalism, hit and run and theft are common examples of violations where a civil compromise may be appropriate. While the result of a successful civil compromise is generally very advantageous for criminal defendants, as it results in a complete dismissal of the charges, it can be a tricky procedure to negotiate.
Civil compromises are subject to several statutory limitations. For example, a civil compromise is not permissible when a misdemeanor is committed riotously or with the intent to commit a felony. Compromise is no longer available in domestic violence matters, violations of a court order, or crimes against elders or against children. If none of the limitations apply, the alleged victim must then be “satisfied” for the injury they have suffered. This usually involves the payment of money, which can be problematic for an inexperienced attorney or a defendant without representation, especially considering that communicating the wrong message to a victim can be viewed as witness intimidation. Once the alleged victim is “satisfied” for their loss, the judge has the power to dismiss the case even over the objection of the prosecutor.
Regardless of these obstacles, in the 26 years that I have been practicing as a criminal defense attorney and negotiating civil compromises, it has been my experience that most people are willing to eventually agree to a civil compromise simply because it is the right thing to do in many theft-related situations. Retailers are more difficult: the store’s attorney must be convinced that the matter is atypical because of some special circumstances involving the alleged offense or the defendant. A successful result requires an advocate who can explain why this option is in the best interest of the alleged victim, the court and the defendant, and if you are facing theft charges a competent attorney must explore this option.
At the Law Office of Domenic J. Lombardo, we have obtained dismissal by compromise in many cases this year alone. Contact us for a free and confidential consultation, call our office for help with your case at (619) 232-5122 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page.