To Fight Smash & Smash-And-Grab Robberies, “Sue The Bastards“; Misdemeanor Prosecutions and Lenient Judges Aren’t Working
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High-End Smash-And-Grab Robberies In California
WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 26, 2021) - While some debate the causes of the recent rash of high-end smash-and-grab robberies in California and elsewhere, it seems clear that the criminal law alone is not effective in deterring them, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
That's why, with many defendants too often charged with only slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanors if they are charged at all, and judges who hand out ineffective lenient sentences, something more can and should be done, and that something is civil law suits against every person arrested or otherwise identified, argues Banzhaf, who has successfully encouraged suits for damages caused by those rioting for a cause and for other criminal conduct.
Under the law, those who act together to engage in criminal behavior such as looting stores have participated as joint tortfeasors in a civil conspiracy.
Then, under the legal doctrine of joint and several liability, each and every individual participant in a smash-and-grab robbery can be held legally liable for the entire amount stolen, even if the defendant stole something which by itself would only amount to a misdemeanor.
Young people who might think it's cool to ransack stores as part of a flash mob - because they expect to risk only a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor charge - might well be deterred if the risk also includes a civil judgment for tens of thousands of dollars which could wipe out their savings and lead to a garnishment of their wages for many years - not to mention seriously impacting their opportunities to obtain or complete a college education.
This might be especially true for juveniles who face far less risk than adults under the criminal law, but who can be sued the same as adult tortfeasors in civil actions, suggests Banzhaf.
Civil Tort Actions
While prosecutors and judges largely control what if anything happens to smash-and-grab looters under the criminal law, stores which are the victims of such crimes control their own civil legal actions - leaving them free to determine settlement terms if any, to dismiss charges against some defendants to get their testimony against others and/or to recover some of the property stolen, etc.
So rather than - or possibly in addition to - closing outlets or adopting expensive and inconvenient security measures, retail giants such as Nordstrom, Apple, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Walgreens and other victims of smash-and-grab looting should have their attorneys bring civil tort actions against all participants who have been identified, suing each individually for the entire amount of merchandise stolen and damages done, counsels the law professor.
This would benefit not only the retailers, but also the customers, who are inconvenienced when individual outlets close, and by security precautions such as strictly limiting occupancy. Perhaps most importantly, customers are likely to decline to patronize stores likely to the targets of smash and robberies for fear of being caught in the store when the violence occurs.
Banzhaf, famous for developing novel winning law suits - including over $12 million from McDonald's over its french fries, and against Spiro Agnew to recover the money he took in bribes - has been called "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars," "The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry," a "King of Class Action Law Suits," and an "Entrepreneur of Litigation, [and] a Trial Lawyer's Trial Lawyer."