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Legal-Guru, Criminal Justice Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
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Experience:  Experienced Criminal Trial Attorney since 1998.
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4 years ago I was caught swapping a pair of shoes so technically

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4 years ago I was caught swapping a pair of shoes so technically stealing. I was issued with a £85 fine and I payed it. Does this mean I was arrested? I am going to America do I need to declare that for the esta?
Welcome to JustAnswer.

(1) Yes, that would constitute an arrest and probably a conviction depending on the disposition.

(2) The ESTA application asks "Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude ...". Generally even minor theft offenses are generally considered "crimes of moral turpitude" because they involve deceit, fraud, and/or deception.

However, section 212(a)(2)(A)(ii)(II) of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act (see link below) exempts crimes where the potential punishment does not exceed one year of incarceration. Retail theft in Florida, assuming the value of the goods was less than $300, is punishable by only up to 60 days in jail. So this offense would not bar you from entry into the U.S., and you can answer the question "no".
Customer: replied 4 years ago.
It was a fixed penalty notice which is neither a conviction or a caution. It was also 3 years ago. Are you sure I will be allowed to go?
Yes, a single arrest for a crime that carries a potential punishment of one year or less does not count as a crime of moral turpitude under the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act. Under Florida law the maximum punishment for retail theft or attempted retail theft of goods valued less than $300 is sixty days in jail.
Customer: replied 4 years ago.
So if I was to go else where in America that had different state punishments for theft for example if Texas Law stated that theft under £300 was 365 days (1year) I would not be able to go there?

Excuse me for panicking if I copy the link you sent me just encase and have the legal info with me - will they accept it from the site you sent me?
No apologies necessary. I completely understand your nervousness.

You are correct. The INA's definition of crime of moral turpitude rests, in part, on the state law punishment. One clarification though. The maximum punishment range has to be more than one year so at least one year and a day. The one year mark coincides with the historic distinction between a felony and misdemeanor. Misdemeanors typically carry one year or less in jail while felonies typically carry more than one year in prison. Many states do not always abide by this historical convention though so that's probably why the INA was written the way it was.

U.S. Customs should know U.S. law. You should not have to show it to them, but yes Cornell Law School's website is fairly authoritative as far as the internet goes. I would be more concerned with having paperwork from your arrest to show them what the charge and punishment was.

Hope you enjoy your trip to the States!
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