This charge is a misdemeanor
. I don't know what state you live in (I'm guessing from the name of the offense, North Carolina) but as a general rule, with a first shoplitting charge there are special programs available which will allow a defendant to dispose of his case and come out of it without a criminal record
These are special forms of probation that generally include a fine, some community service, an anti-theft
class and a period of supervision by the Department of Probation. Comply with all of your sentence
requirements, and the judge will then dismiss all of your charges. So essentially, it's an opportunity to work off the conviction to keep your record clean.
They do not have to offer you a diversion or a deferral option. (the names of such programs) and because of the fact that you have a previous charge, it or some other disposition such as a reduction to a civil offense if possible, may have to be negotiated for. Your worst case scenario is probably going to be a plea to the charge and a fine.
You can, of course, choose not to take any plea at all, although the defense that you put the item in your purse for safekeeping is one that the judge likely hears a dozen times or more per week. Even if it is true, unfortunately it may be hard for the trier of fact to believe it.
Jail time is possible on a misdemeanor and while it is completely unlikely, you have rights you need to protect. If you can afford a lawyer, you should have one with you on your first date to see if he can get you out of this mess without a record if at all possible. Otherwise, if you cannot afford to retain one, you should plead NOT guilty when the court
reads out your charges and asks you how you plead.. That's what all defendants are supposed to do the first time they are asked, because it's the only plea that keeps all of their rights open. Anything else results in a conviction. After you plead not guilty, you can tell the judge that you are unable to afford to retain a private attorney and ask him for a public defender.