Help! I just got arrested for shoplifting. What now?
First, you need to be aware that shoplifting (petit theft) is a crime with serious penalties.
If the property taken is valued at less than $100, that is second degree petit theft (a second degree misdemeanor), and the sentence (punishment) can be up to 60 days in the County Jail and a fine of up to $500.00. (See Florida Statutes sections 77.082, 77.083, and 812.014.)
If the property taken is valued at $100 or more, but less than $300, that is first degree petit theft (a second degree misdemeanor), and the sentence (punishment) can be up to one year (365 days) in the County Jail and a fine of up to $1,000.00. (See Florida Statutes sections 77.082, 77.083, and 812.014.)
Second, you should retain (hire) a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
If possible, you should hire an attorney as soon as you get out of jail, and in any event well before your first court date. Your attorney will file paperwork with the courthouse to notify the clerk of the court and the state attorney's office that you are represented by attorney. Then your attorney will evaluate the various technical legal aspects of your case and talk to the assigned prosecutor on your behalf. Then your attorney will be able to give you a list of options, and will work with you to help you reach the best possible resolution of your case.
Third, you need to know that even if the policeman did not arrest you but instead he gave you a piece of paper called a “notice to appear” that it is still a serious criminal offense.
Under certain circumstances a policeman does not have to arrest a suspect for petit theft, but instead can give that suspect a document called a notice to appear. Generally this means the suspect was able to prove his or her identity, and that the suspect did not have any outstanding warrants and also the police officer believed that the suspect did not pose an ongoing danger to the community.
If you received a notice to appear for petit theft, it is extremely important for you to be aware that your case is still a criminal case that will result in serious criminal penalties (see above) if you are convicted.
In conclusion, it is important for you to be aware of the criminal justice system is extremely complicated. Furthermore the outcome of your case can have an effect on your personal life and your business/professional life for many years to come, especially if you're a young person just getting started in life. Having an attorney to assist you every step of the way greatly increases the chance for case having a positive outcome.