I am sure that many people have been late in returning a library book and incurred some minimal fines, but most of us do return the books at some point. I am certain that people that failed to return a book never thought that they could possibly go to jail. A Texas man recently learned the hard way that some areas do take the failure to return a library book very seriously after he was jailed for a theft offense for failing to return a book.
Theft Charges for Failure to Return a Video
Many people might question whether or not a person would go to jail or be charged with theft in Pennsylvania for failing to return a book. I admit that I have never heard of such an incident, however, I have seen quite a few cases over the years in which people have failed to return videos, DVDs, or video games to State College stores and were charged with theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, which are misdemeanor charges. In these theft cases, the Centre County District Attorney's Office is sometimes willing to dismiss the charges if the person pays restitution or the claimed value of the items that were not returned along with court costs. The video that wasn't returned may only cost $50.00 to $100.00, but the court costs are likely to add another $150.00 or more to the amount due.
In other cases, the prosecutor may not agree to dismiss the charges in exchange for payment of restitution but instead requires the person to participate in the Centre County ARD program. Participation in ARD would require the person to pay over $1,000.00 in ARD costs and fees, complete community service, and be subject to supervision by the probation department for at least 12 months.
Civil Court Should be Used in These Cases
In my opinion, the criminal court system should not be used to basically act as the store's or business's collection agent. If I fail to pay my mortgage, the bank does not call the police and have me charged with theft. Instead, the bank basically sues me and takes my house. The failure to return videos and DVDs is a civil matter, and the businesses should file a civil suit against the person. The reason that a business calls the police and proceeds with a theft charge is because the person that failed to return the video is forced to pay the restitution or else they would go to jail. If the business filed a civil suit, they would win a judgment against the person, but the business would then be required to collect on the judgment on their own. The business would have to find property that belonged to the person and force a sheriff's sale. By calling the police, the business really doesn't have to do anything. The case is then prosecuted by a district attorney, one that is paid for by tax dollars, so the business does not have to put forth much effort or money to recoup their money. It is a waste of tax payer money and a nuisance for the police to have to deal with cases like this.