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S. Huband, Esq.
S. Huband, Esq., Attorney
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 1628
Experience:  Experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.
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Alright.. Im trying this again... I was just recently caught

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Alright.. I'm trying this again...
I was just recently caught shoplifting about $14 dollars of merchandise from a grocery store. As I walked out I was told to come back in by a cop - I complied to everything and gave back the merchandise and was issued a citation with an offense of Theft and I looked up the charge description... But then on the citation the cop circled an M on the ticket with I assume is a misdemeanor.. but not sure. .. I feel really bad.. but I want to know what to expect.. also, this is my first and only theft charge.. never again... but I told the cop I was unemployed and she said well now it's gonna be hard for me to even find a job now... so.. I just want to know what can I do to help myself when I go to court?
Thank you for the opportunity to assist you.

Q) What can I do to help myself when I go to court?

Let's look at the law first, and then discuss your options.

In Minnesota, theft crimes are generally covered by code 609.52. If convicted, the value of the item stolen determines the punishment. Anything under $500.00 in value in MN is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or up to $1,000.00 fine, or a combination of those two.

When you go to court, the judge will ask you what you plan to do about an attorney. Because the charge carries possible jail time if you are convicted, you have the right to an appointed attorney if you cannot afford one. You of course can hire any attorney of your choosing. Representing yourself should be your last choice. If you are asked to enter a plea, say "Not guilty" so that you can preserve all your rights until you can speak with an attorney.

Once you get to the trial stage, you have two basic options: have a trial, or work out a plea deal.

You are entitled to have a trial. At trial, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you stole something with a value of less than $500. You have the right to testify, although you do not have to. You have the right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against you and to present evidence of your own. If you are found guilty, the judge will sentence you within the range I mentioned above.

You could also work out a plea deal. This involves pleading guilty or no contest in exchange for some concession from the prosecutor. For example, the prosecutor might make you a deal where you have only a fine and no jail time, or you only serve a few weekend in jail, etc. By accepting a plea bargain, you give up your right to have a trial.

Many MN counties have "diversion" or "first offender" programs. These are alternatives to the traditional court/trial/sentencing pattern that most criminal cases follow. For example, the judge might hold off on finding you guilty for a while, say 90 days, 6 months, maybe as long as a year. While the judge is twiddling his thumbs, perhaps you could do some community service, keep the peace and be of good behavior, pay your court costs, etc. In exchange, instead of eventually finding you guilty, the judge will simply dismiss the charge.

If it's available, a diversion program is a great alternative, especially if you believe that you might be found guilty anyway. This way, assuming you comply with the court's order and do everything you're supposed to, the charge would be dismissed. When you go to apply for a new job, you can still truthfully check "NO" in the box that asks whether you've been convicted of a crime.

So, here's your checklist:
1) Stay out of trouble!
2) If you are financially able, hire a criminal defense attorney and speak with him/her about your case ASAP.
3) Go to your court date, plead not guilty if you are asked to enter a plea, and ask for a court-appointed attorney if you cannot afford to hire an attorney.
4) Discuss with your attorney whether or not you should have a trial, plead guilty, whether you can participate in some sort of diversion program, etc.

I hope my response has been helpful. If you have follow-up questions or concerns on this topic, please ask. Otherwise, please rate my answer positively so that I can receive credit for my work. Doing so will NOT cost you any additional fee.

Take care,
S. Huband, Esq. and 2 other Criminal Law Specialists are ready to help you
Hello again,

I was notified that you rated the answer I gave positively, and I am very pleased and gratified that I was able to help you. I sincerely hope the matter(s) we discussed turn out well for you.

Please ask for me in the future if you have additional questions or concerns. Thank you very much for the opportunity to assist you.

Take care,