Theft crimes, by their nature, involve the taking of something of value from a victim. If you have been accused of a theft crime, or are concerned that you will be charged with a theft crime, you may wonder whether paying the victim back will be sufficient to prevent charges or, at the very least, keep you out of jail. As is usually the case in criminal law, it is impossible to answer questions such as these with any degree of certainty without taking into account all the relevant facts and circumstances. However, it is possible to explain how the prosecution of a criminal case proceeds and how paying back the victim typically fits into the process. For legal advice in your specific case, consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney.
Once a crime has been committed you cannot “undo” the crime. In a theft crime, there are really two separate yet related legal issues. First, there is the criminal offense (theft, grand theft, embezzlement, burglary, etc.). Second, is the issue of restitution. Sometimes, the issue of restitution can be handled as a civil matter and criminal charges can be avoided. By way of illustration, assume that you shoplifted $100 worth of items from your local Wal-Mart store. Assume further that you were caught by their loss prevention officers. Walmart may have the option of allowing you to repay the store for the items stolen (typically along with some additional fees) in lieu of contacting the authorities and pressing charges for the theft. Once the authorities are contacted, however, and you are actually charged with the crime of theft, only the prosecuting attorney has the authority to dismiss the charges. In the Walmart example, the prosecuting attorney is likely to consult with Walmart regarding their desire to prosecute or not; however, the ultimate decision maker is the prosecuting attorney.
Using another example, let’s assume that you broke into your neighbor’s house and stole a television. Even if you offered to pay for the television and the damages to the house, you still committed a criminal offense and, therefore, could still be prosecuted. If you have already compensated the victim you would not be required to pay restitution if convicted of the offense; however, paying the victim back does not negate the commission of the crime.
Moreover, in some cases a victim can pursue both a civil complaint for damages and criminal charges against you. For all of these reasons, it is best to consult with an experienced California criminal defense attorney before offering to repay the victim of a theft crime you committed.