If I was just arrested for petit theft, what steps should I take now?

Asked on February 11, 2013 under Criminal Law, New York


B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

You are looking at a minor degree of theft-- which is a good thing in that it won't result in big prison time.  However, theft convictions can affect other parts of your life like showing up on employment background checks.

If you can afford to hire an attorney, start looking now.  You can hire attorneys for different purposes.  Most will have a fee for negotiating the best deal for a plea bargain and another fee if you know you are looking for a jury trial.  Jury trial fees are substantially more expensive than plea fees.  However, since you are looking at a petit theft, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to proactively work your case with the prosecutor and the victim-- namely if you quickly pay restitution will they drop the charges completely.  This doesn't always work, but it can and often does satisfy the victim who doesn't want to loose more money by being tied up with a court proceeding.  Essentially, it's a win-win offer.  You don't want to do this type of dealing on your own for two reasons.  First, if you contact the victim, they may cry foul and accuse you of tampering with a witness (which means a more serious charge).  Second, any statements that you make to either could potentially be used against you later.  The advantage of an attorney being involved is that it is very clear this is plea bargaining-- not intimidation-- and the statements can't be used against you directly.

If your case is set for a hearing while you are looking for an attorney, make sure that you show up for court even if you have not found one yet.  Not appearing for court can result in a warrant being issued for your arrest and, potentially, new charges.  Appear as directed and ask the court for more time to find an attorney.  If you simply cannot afford an attorney, request the court to appoint you one. 

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