What will likely happen in court to a first-time offender for shoplifting?

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What will likely happen in court to a first-time offender for shoplifting?

My husband and I were caught stealing $63 worth of items from a store. It is unlike us and we feel terrible about it; we wish that we had never done so. It is our first time and we have no previous crimes on our records at all – not even a traffic ticket. My husband is 24 and I am 19 years old (will be 20 by the court date). We have 2 children under 2and I know we should’ve thought about this before we did such a stupid, terrible thing, but we can’t go to jail. What will likely happen? I’ve been worried every day since and can’t sleep well at night. We feel terrible.

Asked on July 10, 2011 under Criminal Law, North Carolina

Answers:

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

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

First of all, while technically you could go to jail, as a practical matter given the circumstances of your case 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.  Also, since you are both first-time offenders, a criminal law attorney may also be able to arrange for an alternative sentencing program, in many states known as "diversion". With such a program you will plead guilty to the charge, receive a probation and upon its successful completion the charge will be withdrawn and the case dismissed.  Furthemore your record should be automatically cleared. 

Note:  Diversion is only allowed for a first offense.  This means that if you get into trouble again, it will not be available for you regarding any subsequent charge(s).  That's why if you get an attorney and the get the your case dismissed, you will be eligible for diversion in the future if you should need it.

If money is an issue, low-income individuals can qualify for a Public Defender (or court appointed counsel). If you aren't eligible, then 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. 


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