Many times I speak to a new client that is charged in a criminal case and their main concern is “am I going to jail?” That is a logical question when you commit a criminal act. It is entirely dependent on a number of key factors. Let me guide you through the analysis using the example of shoplifting.
Here’s the case: You have never been charged with a crime. You are in a store and you take a few items without paying for them. As you leave the store, the loss prevention team stops you and asks you to come to their office. They take the items back and they call the police. Your first thought – “Am I going to go to jail for shoplifting!?”
First, understand there are some criminal charges that are “fine only” type cases. For example, if you are charged with disorderly conduct, the potential penalty is a fine up to $150.00. There are others that carry a potential incarceration. For criminal charges that carry a potential incarceration, the statute (law) tells you the possible sentence that you will receive if you are found guilty of the crime. In our example of shoplifting, the punishment for shoplifting is dependent on whether it is a first, second or subsequent offense and the dollar amount of the items taken:
Where the retail value of the goods is less than $100.00:
- First offense: a fine not to exceed $250.00;
- Second offense: a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $500
- Third or subsequent offense: a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment in a jail for not more than 2 years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
- Where the retail value of the goods equals or exceeds $100.00: a fine of not more than $1,000.00 or by imprisonment in the house of correction for not more than 2 ½ years, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
So, are you going to jail?
If this is your first or second offense, and the dollar value of the items taken is less than $100.00, no, you are not going to jail. If this is your third (or higher) offense, and the items taken are under $100.00, the answer is “maybe.” If you are charged with shoplifting items over the value of $250.00, whether it is your first, second or subsequent time charged, the answer is “maybe.”
What decides “maybe?” The answer is dependent on a few things: the number of this offense for you (first, second, etc.); the dollar value of the items taken/attempted to be taken; the facts of the case; your criminal record; and your personal information (who you are, what you do, etc.). This is where your attorney uses his/her expertise to benefit your case. S/he will use everything good about your background and criminal history to negotiate a good outcome for you and/or to argue for a good disposition from the Court. The idea is to highlight the positive and show the Court that you are entitled to a particular sentence and that you can succeed with that disposition (ie probation). It is essential to hire an attorney for these reasons.
If the answer is “no,” do I still need an attorney? Yes. An attorney will ensure that you receive the best disposition possible. This may be in the form of a lesser fine, a different finding (CWOF instead of a Guilty), a reduction in the charged offense. Keep in mind that your criminal record follows you forever and everywhere. A future employer will see it. School boards will see it. Committees will see it. You want to protect it as much as possible. Hire an attorney to help you do that even for a “fine only” case.
When faced with an arrest for shoplifting, hire an attorney. Call me to discuss your case and protect your future.