How can I effectively represent myself in court against a shoplifting charge?

Get Legal Help Today

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

How can I effectively represent myself in court against a shoplifting charge?

I activated and stole a $25 gift card from a store and was charged with theft. I can’t afford a lawyer and when I asked to get a court appointed attorney I got no reply. This is my first offense other than a few speeding/parking tickets (that have all been paid). My court date is in 2 days. How can I keep myself out of jail and get the minimum penalty?

Asked on July 30, 2011 Minnesota

Answers:

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

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

First of all, while technically you could go to jail, as a practical matter in a case such as this, that won't happen. That having been said, shoplifting is a criminal offense so you should have legal representation.  An experienced defense lawyer might be able to get the charge dismissed on a technicality.  

If that's not possible, you may be able to arrange for an alternative sentencing program, which in many states is known as "diversion". With such a program you plead guilty to the charge, receive probation, and if it's successfully completed the charge is withdrawn and the case dismissed.  Typically, your record is automatically cleared (although is some states you will have to have your arrest record "expunged; that means cleared). 

However, diversion is only allowed for a first offense.  This means that if you get into trouble again, it will not be available to you.  That's why if you get an attorney and they get your case dismissed, you will be eligible for diversion if you should need it in the future.

Note:  If money is an issue, if you can't get a PD appointed, check to see if there is a law school nearby to where you live; they typically run free/low cost clinics that handle these type cases.  You can also contact the local Bar Association in your county; they 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.

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

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

First of all, while technically you could go to jail, as a practical matter in a case such as this, that won't happen. That having been said, shoplifting is a criminal offense so you should have legal representation.  An experienced defense lawyer might be able to get the charge dismissed on a technicality.  

If that's not possible, you may be able to arrange for an alternative sentencing program, which in many states is known as "diversion". With such a program you plead guilty to the charge, receive probation, and if it's successfully completed the charge is withdrawn and the case dismissed.  Typically, your record is automatically cleared (although is some states you will have to have your arrest record "expunged; that means cleared). 

However, diversion is only allowed for a first offense.  This means that if you get into trouble again, it will not be available to you.  That's why if you get an attorney and they get your case dismissed, you will be eligible for diversion if you should need it in the future.

Note:  If money is an issue, if you can't get a PD appointed, check to see if there is a law school nearby to where you live; they typically run free/low cost clinics that handle these type cases.  You can also contact the local Bar Association in your county; they 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.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

 Secured with SHA-256 Encryption