Criminal Law Questions? Ask a Criminal Lawyer.
Thank you for your questions. To avoid confusion, please allow me to answer them in the order that they were presented.
1. "Do we need to hire a lawyer?" A. It's a good idea to hire a lawyer if you have the financial means to do so. In New York, shoplifting merchandise under $1,000 or less in value can carry punishment that includes up to a year in jail. I should be clear that a 1 year period of incarceration for a first-time offense of shoplifting less than $20 worth of merchandise is so extremely unlikely that it isn't worth mentioning except to illustrate that there is a broad range in possible outcomes and it makes sense to ensure that your rights are protected.
2. "Will this stay on her record and affect her future employment?"A. A shoplifting (petit larceny) conviction in New York can be sealed if the offender is less than 19 years old. When a record is sealed, it will not appear in most employer background searches. I can't say that it won't have any affect on your daughter's future employment because every case is unique, but it would have no long-term impact for the vast majority of juveniles. It could come up if she ever wanted to work for the FBI, but it wouldn't be a problem in most situations. Even where it does come up, it wouldn't likely have any impact whatsoever. Approximately 1/3 of U.S. adults have at least a misdemeanor on their adult record. A $14 theft as a stupid 15 year old is not likely to hold her back.
I see that you have joined the chat. Before I continue, have these answers been sufficiently clear and helpful?
Is this live chat?
Yes, it is.
Were you able to see my answer to your first and second questions?
got it. Yes. so far I think I am understanding.
You also asked "what will likely happen in court"? Most first-time shoplifters are offered "adjournment in contemplation of dismissal" (ACD). ACD is a type of plea deal. The nuances vary from court to court, but what happens is that the shoplifter/defendant does not enter a plea. Instead of entering a plea, the defednant is offered the chance to abide by some rules--the opportunity to pay a fine, reimburse the victim, take some classes about making better decisions, perhaps do some community service, and agrees to abide by some other rules of conduct for a probationary period of around six months. If the defendant successfully completes the probationary period and other requirements, the charge is dismissed completely.
Naturally, the nuances of every case are different, so this information should not be construed as complete or advice, but for any given shoplifting case where the value of the merchandise is less than $100 and the defendant is a first-time offender, ACD is normally offered. It's normally a very good option.
Does that make sense?
If it is dismissed completely, does that mean it is not on her record at all?
yes that makes sense
No conviction would appear on her record.
The charge would be dropped completely.
This just happened yesterday and the court date is Tuesday. The police officer told us we did not need a lawyer, and that it would likely be dropped. we are just worried because it is all new to us and want to do what is best for her but do not have a lot of extra money. Could we even get a lawyer on such a short time frame?
That's definitely a tight time frame. If you work with a firm that specializes in criminal defense, you can probably find someone who would be available. You can also ask the court on Tuesday for more time to get an attorney.
I've never, ever heard of a police officer telling someone that they need an attorney. Ever.
Will she have to answer "yes" on an application to the question of "have you ever been arrested"
That answer is a lot more complex than it probably seems. The laws vary from state to state, and even from municipality to municipality. In some cases, it is not legal to even ask that specific question, and how it has to be answered depends on the outcome of the case. I would wait until she is actually faced with that question because then you can examine the totality of the circumstances. It's normal to worry about these things because this is your daughter's first brush with the law, but I would emphasize again that about 1/3 of adults have at least a misdemeanor on their adult record, and most of them are productive, employed citizens. As one parent to another, I really wouldn't worry about how this will affect your daughter's long-term future. It will sting in the short-run, but if she just learns from her mistake and doesn't repeat it, you would normally expect it to be as though this never happened by the time she turns 18.
To answer that question a bit more succinctly: generally "no", but it would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis.
Any advice on finding a lawyer in this area on our time crunch? Fee ranges?
Where did this occur?
Great. The Erie County Bar Association has a terrific referral service. They can typically match you with someone who will meet whatever criteria you may have. Use them: http://www.eriebar.org/LawyerReferralandInformationService/HowItWorks
Thanks Brandon, You have been very helpful.
It was my pleasure. As a parent, it's natural to worry. When our kids do stuff like this, it doesn't make it any easier. This isn't going to derail your daughter's life as long as she learns her lesson. This is her freebee.
I wish you the best. Have a good night.
Believe me, she has learned her lesson!