Frequently Asked Theft Questions
- What will happen on my first court date and do I have to be there if I have a lawyer?
- The police did not read me my rights will my case be dismissed?
- I only took a small item from the store. Why have I been charged with burglary and not shoplifting?
- Why should I pay for a lawyer when I can get a Public Defender for free?
Q: What will happen on my first court date and do I have to be there if I have a lawyer?
A: The first court date is called an arraignment. On this day a plea will be entered to the charges (guilty, not guilty or no contest). Usually, the police reports and a list of charges (Complaint) are obtained. The defendant in misdemeanor cases will usually not have to be present if represented by an attorney. In felony cases the defendant must appear.
Q. The police did not read me my rights will my case be dismissed?
A. Law enforcement personnel are required to read you your “Miranda rights” only if two criteria are met. You must be in custody (usually “arrested”), and you must be interrogated (questioned about the details of the crime). A Miranda warning violation does not automatically result in the dismissal of a case. The statements that you made after the violation would be suppressed and not admissible as evidence.
Q. I only took a small item from the store. Why have I been charged with burglary and not shoplifting?
A. The key distinction between being charged with burglary (entering a structure with the intent to steal) and shoplifting (petty theft) is when was the intent to steal formed in their mind. Essentially, if a person enters the store with the prior intent to steal something then they are committing burglary. If they enter for other reasons and decide in the store to simply take an item of small value then it is petty theft. Intent is the key element that must be established for a burglary charge. Intent is often established by being in possession of false receipts and already having empty bags to place stolen items, etc.
Q: Why should I pay for a lawyer when I can get a Public Defender for free?
A: In order to qualify for the services of a Public Defender you must establish to the court’s satisfaction that you are indigent (unable to afford to hire your own attorney). A Public Defender is an attorney assigned to a specific courtroom to handle all of the cases that day for the indigents who did not retain an attorney to represent them. Public Defenders are almost always very dedicated and may be experienced in your type of case. However, your case would be just one of many. Usually, hiring your own lawyer provides you with the most experienced attorney who can provide you with the best possible investigation and defense of your case and you are the sole focus of your attorney. And if you simply plead guilty, you may wonder for years if you could have had the charges against you dismissed or reduced to a lesser offense. You must ask yourself, “How would a conviction and having a criminal record affect me in the future?”