What should I do next if I was caught shoplifting?

I got caught shoplifting $166 worth of merchandise. I’m barely 18 with a perfectly clean slate with good education.They said I would receive a letter with a court date and possible fines. Is this likely? If yes, what should I say/do at court?

Asked on March 24, 2011 under Criminal Law, California

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Shoplifting is a criminal offense and any time criminal charges are involved legal counsel should be consulted.  An experienced attorney might be able to get the charge dismissed on a technicality or possibly at least get it reduced.  Since you are a first-time offender, they may also be able to arrange for "diversion" which is basically an alternative sentencing program whereby you will plead guilty to the charge, receive a special probation, and upon successful its completion, your case will be dismissed.  Additionally, your record should be automatically cleared.  However, diversion is typically only allowed for a first offense.  This means that if you again gets into trouble it will not be available to you.  That's why if you retain an attorney who manages to get the charge dismissed, you will be eligible for diversion in the future if you should need it.

If money is an issue, see if she qualifies for representation by the PD's office or Legal Aid (there are income limits). Also, check if there is a law school nearby to where the charges where brought; they typically run free/low cost clinics that handle these type cases.  Finally, you can contact the local Bar Association in the county in question; it may have a list of attorneys who will take your case "pro bono" (for free) or at least for a reduced fee based on your income/circumstances. 


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