What should I expect if this is my first time going to court? 43 Answers as of June 23, 2013

I am going to court for a theft under $100 and this is my first time going to court. What should I expect? Could I be facing jail time?

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Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC
Cornish, Crowley, Rockafellow, & Sartz, PLLC | Jacob Peter Sartz IV
I would recommend retaining an attorney for this matter. This response does not contain specific legal advice. If you need specific legal advice, you should consult with an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court may appoint you one at the public's expense. You are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Only if a person is ultimately convicted or if they plead guilty will they be sentenced. In Michigan, the maximum penalties for a retail fraud, third, usually charged in alleged shop-lifting cases for merchandise with a value under $200.00, is 93 days in jail, probation up to two years,"a fine of not more than $500.00 or 3 times the value of the difference in price, property stolen, or money or property obtained or attempted to be obtained, whichever is greater, or both imprisonment and a fine." MCL 750.356d.
Answer Applies to: Michigan
Replied: 10/6/2011
Lisa Mulligan Law Offices, LLC
Lisa Mulligan Law Offices, LLC | Lisa Mulligan
The first time you appear in court will probably be your arraignment hearing. At this hearing, the State will officially charge you with a crime and you will enter a plea or guilty/not-guilty. If you do not have a privately retained attorney, the Court will give you the chance to have a public defender - if you haven't already talked to the office of public defense in your county before the hearing, the judge may give you time to do that before the arraignment. Your lawyer can explain the process to you better since it differs depending on the county you are in. With a misdemeanor charge, you could be sentenced to jail time, but only your lawyer will be able to tell you if that is likely or not in your case. Good luck!
Answer Applies to: Washington
Replied: 9/20/2011
Law Offices of Sean Logue
Law Offices of Sean Logue | Sean Logue
Likely no jail time, but you should hire an attorney. A theft charge is not one you want on your record.
Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
Replied: 9/19/2011
Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law
Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law | Jonathan S. Willett
Unlikely you will see jail. If you have no prior record, you should try to obtain a deferred judgment. You may be required to pay court costs, fines, restitution and perform community service.
Answer Applies to: Colorado
Replied: 9/19/2011
Law Office of Richard Williams
Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
It appears that you have been charged with theft of property thrid (misdemeanor). The possible sentence could be up to one year in jail and a fine of not more than $1,000 in municipal court or more thaan $6,000 if in District Court. Theft of property is a crime involving moral turpitude and the record of the conviction is a permanent record which will be with you for the rest of your life.
Answer Applies to: Alabama
Replied: 9/19/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    It is highly probable that you will get any jail time for this offense, so do not preoccupy yourself about that. However, it is a criminal offense, which could adversely affect you in the future, so hire a lawyer to represent you in court. He will be able to get you the best possible result in the case.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 9/19/2011
    Theodore W. Robinson, P.C.
    Theodore W. Robinson, P.C. | Theodore W. Robinson
    You are facing apetit larceny charge and you will likelybe given an ACD, meaning an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal, which will likely require you to go to a Stop Lift program. After six months or a year, if you don't get rearrested, the case will be dismissed against you. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/19/2011
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law
    Mark Thiessen, Attorney at Law | Mark Thiessen
    You certainly could face jail, but not on the first court date. The first court date is just like the first day of school. They want to make sure you found the court, you haven't fled the country, introduce you to the judge and let you know when to come back. The Judge will ask you if you qualify for a court appointed attorney, if you want to represent yourself, or you need more time to hire an attorney. Theft is a crime of moral turpitude though, so you definitely need to hire an attorney and fight it.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    D T Pham Associates, PLLC
    D T Pham Associates, PLLC | Duncan T Pham
    Depends on charge and court.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 6/23/2013
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    You have been charged with shop lift. Shop lift is a "gross misdemeanor", punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000.00 fine. Many people write me, thinking that the value of the item taken somehow impacts the court and how the person is to be dealt with. Since this is your first offense, you will probably get a suspended sentence, which means the judge will find you guilty, and suspend all the jail time and a portion of the fines, conditioned upon you doing certain things over the next two years (probation), including, but not limited to, law abiding behavior. If during the probation period, you find yourself in trouble, the judge will send you to jail. You also need to consider other consequences that go beyond the court action. A conviction for shop lift (theft) could impact your employment and/or prevent you from getting other employment because a boss might feel you are "untrustworthy". Also, if you are looking at colleges or post secondary education, a conviction could disqualify you from certain colleges and could also impact your ability to obtain grants and scholarships. Even if this is a first time offense, I would strongly encourage you to seek out legal representation as there may be other things the attorney can do that might lessen the impact upon you.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    For a first offense, you should expect to be placed on probation, usually not jail time.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    You will probably receive probation.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 6/23/2013
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    It is highly unlikely that you will be facing jail time. With state budget cuts and the general financial mess, jail space is limited and usually reserved for violent offenders. Depending on the county or city where you are charged, you may qualify for what is called diversion. This is a program that allows you to pay money, complete certain requirements and stay out of trouble. At the end of a year of diversion, if you pay all the costs and complete all other requirements; and stay out of trouble, the case would be dismissed. Even if the court doesn't offer diversion, you can get a guilty plea or finding vacated and dismissed eventually.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    You will be approached by the prosecutor and asked to plead guilty or to set the matter for trial. Anything you say will be used against you at a trial. In some courts, you will be offered a plea. You will be asked whether you are hiring an attorney or whether you need an appointed attorney. If you plead guilty, you will have a criminal record unless there is some other agreement. You will be on probation and you will have to pay fines and costs. Alternatively, you could hire an attorney to take care of this. In many cases, the attorney can arrange an agreement which may keep the matter off your record through various statutes which may apply in your case. You will have to pay your attorney, however, it may be worth it when you are looking for a job and don't want a conviction on your record, or when applying for a license or applying for financial aid for college. It is your choice whether or not you retain an attorney. I hope that this was helpful.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Beaulier Law Office
    Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
    A theft offense can be very serious. While any theft under $500 is a misdemeanor. Such an offense is still punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. The collateral consequences of a conviction can also be extremely significant and preclude a person from finding employment where background checks are performed. Often, if you have no prior offenses, a conviction can be avoided with a Stay of Prosecution. A Stay of Prosecution means that the offense is never recorded on your record and stayed for a certain periofd of time to ensure that you do not have another offense.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    Retail fraud 3rd degree is a 93 day misdemeanor. While there is a chance of jail, if you otherwise have a clean record, you should expect to pay fines and costs and be placed on probation for a period of time, probably not less than a year.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Michael E. Hendrickson
    Law Office of Michael E. Hendrickson | Michael E. Hendrickson
    If it's Prince William County and you're convicted, expect to be sentenced to two days in the slammer.
    Answer Applies to: Virginia
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Harden Law Offices
    Harden Law Offices | Leonard D. Harden
    A first theft under $100 should be a b misdemeanor punishable by a fine only. I am usually able to have case placed on file on conditions of good behavior and restitution. Your first appearance is an arraignment.
    Answer Applies to: New Hampshire
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Bensmochan & Poghosyan, LLP
    Bensmochan & Poghosyan, LLP | Ruzanna Poghosyan
    Since the value of the stolen property is less than $950, you will be charged with Cal. Pen. Code 484, Petty Theft, which is a misdemeanor under California law. If the value of the stolen property is $50 or less and this is your first petty theft offence, the prosecutor may reduce the charge from misdemeanor to infraction. Your fist court hearing will be your arraignment. At the arraignment, you will be asked to enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest). If you enter "guilty" or "no contest" plea, your case will come to the end. If you enter "not guilty" plea, a future court date will be set (either the pretrial or trial). Penalties for violation of Cal. PC 484 typically include up to six months county jail; three years of summary/informal probation; and/or up to $1000.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    If it is a first petty theft, jail can probably be avoided. But don't aim so low. A petty theft is a crime of moral turpitude, so if you have it, you can forget about obtaining any meaningful employment for the next decade of your life.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Andrew J. Barovick, P.C.
    Andrew J. Barovick, P.C. | Andrew J. Barovick, P.C.
    It is very unlikely that you will face jail time if this is your first arrest. It sounds like you are facing a misdemeanor charge of petit larceny. Chances are very good that you will be offered an opportunity to plead guilty to a lesser charge. The penalty attached could be anything from probation/conditional discharge, to community service, to paying a fine. You may also be offered an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD), where the court will tell you that if you stay out of trouble for a set timeusually 6 months or 1 yearall charges will be dropped and your record will be sealed. Of course, you always have to option of going to trial, which you should discuss with your attorney.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    The case will be dismissed and you will not have a criminal record this time. You need to make better decisions in the future. If you get a criminal record you will find it almost impossible to get a good job or career. Companies do not want to hire thieves, drug users, or violent criminals.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Anderson Law Office
    Anderson Law Office | Scott L. Anderson
    It is a misdemeanor offense which carries with it a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. The critical element is you need to try to keep it off of your record for future employment and other considerations.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer
    Cynthia Henley, Lawyer | Cynthia Henley
    Theft $50 to $500 is a Class B misdemeanor. You need to hire a lawyer to represent you so that you can try to avoid keeping this charge (and certainly getting a conviction) on your record. Theft is a crime of moral turpitude that could have long term repercussions.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    Almost certainly no jail. You may get away with an eventual dismissal with some community service or writing an essay.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Keyser Law Firm
    Keyser Law Firm | Christopher W. Keyser
    Thank you for the question. You will not serve any jail time for a first time theft offense under $100. It's possible you could serve some community service, attend a theft-related education class, pay any applicable restitution or pay a monetary court fine. The most important aspect of your case is keeping your record clean. Even though this is for a relatively minor misdemeanor offense, I recommend consulting with an attorney before marching into court. Resolving your case in a way that keeps your record clean with ensure you avoid problems in the future with employment, housing or other background checks. Feel free to contact me with additional questions or concerns.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC | Timothy J. Klisz
    Yes you could be sentenced to 93 days in jail. With a good attorney, you can often avoid a criminal record on this kind of case.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    Is this left from a person or from a business? It would definitely be a misdemeanor. You might be eligible for a diversion program which could keep the conviction off of your public record. At worst you would probably be looking at probation. Jail is a possibility but not likely. At least have a lawyer review the case before you agree to anything. The case may be weak or there may be problems which could get the charges reduced or dismissed.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    IF you get a good attorney he or she might be able to work it out so that you do not have a record. You DO NOT WANT a theft conviction. If you think it is hard to get a job now you have no idea how hard it is when branded as a thief.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Betts Legal Services
    Betts Legal Services | Shawn M. Betts
    Most likely there would not be any jail time. Usually a first offense of that nature results in a fine, probation, and possibly restitution, and the charges are regularly dropped to a petty misdemeanor or some other type of dispositon that keeps a conviction from your record.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Shane Law Office
    Shane Law Office | Robert J. Shane
    You could expect at your first court appearance to be advised by the judge that you have a right to legal representation in any criminal case. If you can not afford a private attorney, the court will appoint a public defender to represent you. A lawyer may beable to negotiate the continuance for dismissal of your case since you have no previous criminal history and the dollar amount of the theft is low. I do not believe that a jail sentence is likely in your case, but the court may require you to perform community service or sentence to serve. Please do not represent yourself as a theft conviction on your record will negatively impact your future employment and housing opportunities.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Joe Dane
    Law Office of Joe Dane | Joe Dane
    Yes, you're facing a misdemeanor that is punishable by up to 6 months in county jail and/or a thousand dollar fine. That doesn't mean you're going to get that (or any jail time at all), but you're still looking at a misdemeanor criminal charge that will haunt you for years to come if you're convicted. Focus on finding a local criminal defense attorney that routinely practices in the court where your case will be heard. There may be things you can your lawyer can work on to get you in a better position for when they go to court on your behalf. There may be a way to work out this first offense in a way that doesn't result in a conviction on your record. If you cannot afford an attorney (and you'll never know if you can until you sit down with a couple of local ones to discuss the case and fees), you'll have to appear in court and you can request a public defender at that time.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    John Segelbaum, P.S.
    John Segelbaum, P.S. | John Segelbaum
    The maximum penalty is 364 days in jail and a $5000.00 fine. It is unlikely you would be given jail on a first offense. However, you need an attorney to attempt to avoid a conviction,two years of probation and a criminal record.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C.
    Dennis Roberts, a P.C. | Dennis Roberts
    I can't imagine jail time. Most likely probation, an orderfor restitution (give the money back) andprobably a small fine. Good luck. You don't need a lawyer for this but if you qualify for the public defender, use him/her.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin
    Law Office of Daniel K Martin | Daniel K Martin
    It is going to be alright. Most people are eligible for a diversion program that allows you to have the case dismissed as if it never happened. If you are not eligible for diversion then you still should not expect jail time however you could be forced to pay about a thousand dollars and some community service.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Richard Southard
    Law Office of Richard Southard | Richard C Southard
    Petit Larceny is a class A misdemeanor and has a maximum sentence of one year in jail and $1000 fine. However, there is nothing in the facts you present that leads me to believe that a prosecutor would want a jail sentence as punishment. In the NYC area these cases are routinely plea bargained to a violation (disorderly conduct) or an ACD with some community service or Stoplift diversion program.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre
    Law Office of Jonathan T. Sarre | Jonathan T. Sarre
    It sounds like you are charged with a Theft in the Third Degree. Under Oregon law, you could receive a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $1250.00. Most of the time, depending on the county, the district attorney will offer anything from a relatively short (1 year or so) probation, or a short jail sentence or some community service (and sometimes a combination of the three). You may also receive a deferred sentencing offer where the case would be dismissed if you complete some community service and a class.
    Answer Applies to: Oregon
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Palumbo and Kosofsky
    Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
    Petit larceny carries a prison sentence. This is why you need to retain defense counsel.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Offices of Elliott Zarabi
    Law Offices of Elliott Zarabi | Elliott Zarabi
    You should expect the Prosecutor to give you an offer... First appearance is usually an arraignment. You should not plea to a misdemeanor, but this all depends on the facts of your case. Feel free to contact my office with any questions that you may have.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    If this is a simple theft of less than $100.00 you should be charged with a misdemeanor of petty theft. Your first court date is your arraignment and you will be told the charges against you and told your rights. You will be asked if you plead guilty or not guilty. You will also be told what would happen to you if you plead guilty. If you are out of custody and you plead not guilty you will be asked if you want an attorney and a new date will be set for you to come back. Pleading guilty to a petty theft for a first time you should not do any jail time. A normal sentence would be three years summary probation, time served, Cal trans and a fine.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Office of Michael Brodsky
    Law Office of Michael Brodsky | Michael Brodsky
    Theft in an amount less than $250 is a considered Theft in the 3rd Degree, a gross misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of #64 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000. That said, it is unlikely you would receive any jail time for a 1st offense theft in that amount. A good attorney may be able to negotiate an outcome that avoids a conviction altogether sparing you a criminal record that could impact you ability to get certain jobs.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 9/16/2011
    Law Offices of Andrew Bouvier-Brown
    Law Offices of Andrew Bouvier-Brown | Andrew J. Bouvier-Brown
    If you do not have an attorney, the court will ask if you can afford one. If you can't, you'll be offered the services of the public defender. You should accept that offer. In all likelihood you are not facing the prospect of jail time, but you should understand that is not completely out of the question. The other possible outcomes vary tremendously from court to court.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 9/16/2011
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