My name is ***** ***** I will be assisting you with your question.
It is always a good idea to have legal representation when you are a defendant on a criminal case. That's why the Constitution
provides a right to counsel for all who are charged with a crime.
The settlement offer is a civil matter and you will need to pay that. But that does not change the fact that Walmart has also come after you criminally and that you still must resolve your criminal case.
Florida has a pre-trial diversion program for first-time shoplifters. That means that instead of coming before the judge and having to plead to the offense to dispose of this case, a defendant would talk directly to the prosecutor and agree to successfully complete a period of supervision by the department of probation
and the requirements (usually fines, anti-theft classes and community service) after which this matter would be dismissed. Essentially, a diversion program is a way to keep this charge from affecting your criminal record so that you could deny ever having been convicted of a crime.
There is also something similar which is a deferred adjudication
, where you'd plead guilty to the shoplifting
but be able to work off your sentence so that the conviction does not get entered against you.
Either of these two dispositions are very typical outcomes for first time shoplifters. While contact with the criminal justice system should never be ta***** *****ghtly, the odds of you doing any jail time for this case are zero, so long as you make your court appearances, and your very worst case scenario on a plea to the charge would, in my experience, be nothing worse than probation.
If you can afford a lawyer, you may want to retain one and have him work on this before the adjourn date so that a deal could get cut for a diversion type of disposition before you even show up in court. You could contact the Florida State Bar Association's Lawyer Referral Service. They will give you the name of an attorney and their small referral fee -- around $50 -- would include a free half hour consultation with a lawyer which you could have over the telephone if you cannot go out to meet him in person before the court date.
If you can't afford a lawyer or can't get a lawyer and have to come before the judge without one, you should plead NOT GUILTY at your arraignment and let the court know you are interested in a diversion type of disposition. If for any reason it's denied to you, your fallback position would be to maintain your position of not guilty and ask the judge to appoint a public defender
or for a continuance so that you could retain private counsel, so that your can work out something favorable to you on the next date.