How best to handle a first offense shoplifting charge?

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How best to handle a first offense shoplifting charge?

My daughter got stopped a few weeks ago for shoplifting an item under $50.. She is 21. She was with a friend at a store and swears that she wasn’t trying to steal the item; she just forgot she had it on when she went out to look for her friend who had left. Seems her friend took off and left her in the dressing room. Her friend actually did steal something. Well she was stopped by a store employee. Gave back the item. Police were called. She has no money. I have no money. I don’t want her to be stuck with this on record. I am at a loss what to do. I just found out and need help. Has to go to court on 3/1/11.

Asked on February 27, 2011 under Criminal Law, Florida

Answers:

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

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Shoplifting is a criminal offense.  Accordingly your daughter should have legal representation in this matter.  An experienced attorney might be able to get the charge dismissed on a technicality or possibly at least get it reduced.  Since she is a first-time offender, they may also be able to arrange for "diversion" (or FL's equivalent) which is an alternative sentencing program whereby she will plead guilty to the charge, receive a special probation, and upon successful completion of probation the charge will be withdrawn and her case dismissed.  Additionally, her record should be automatically cleared.  However, diversion is typically only allowed for a first offense.  This means that if your daughter again gets into trouble it will not be available to her.  That's why if she gets an attorney who gets the charge dismissed, she will be eligible for diversion in the future if she should need it.

Since money is an issue, see if she qualifies for representation by Legal Aid (there are income limits) or see if it can recommend someone to help her.  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, she can contact the local Bar Association in the county in question; they may have a list of attorneys who will take her case "pro bono" (for free) or at least for a reduced fee based on her income/circumstances. 


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