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Theft is as serious as any other offense, even if it is petty in nature. Thinking that stealing something that doesn’t cost much is a trivial crime that may land you in trouble. People do something as silly as shoplifting or dine and dash for the sake of fun rather than with an intention to steal. But you may face charges for petty theft. And you shouldn’t be careless if you are innocent but still accused of petit theft, because proving your innocence is important to steer clear of legal hassles. However small the crime may be, you should still act fast to avoid getting harsh punishments. Knowing your rights and defending them is equally important. Here are some facts that first-time petit theft offenders should know.
Understand theft as an offense
Even before you try understanding what petit theft is, you need to know what actually comes under theft as a crime. Essentially, it is an action whereby one person obtains the property of another person with the intention to deprive the rightful owner of it. The action is done without the implied or express consent of the owner, by threat, intimidation or deception. Most states classify theft in two general categories, namely grand and petty. In many states, theft of property worth over $400-$500 is regarded as grand theft while anything below comes under the petit category.
Know what comes under petit theft
Apart from the value of property stolen, there are other conditions that first-time offenders need to know about this offense. The nature of the crime matters too, which is the reason why you should know what all comes under its coverage. Sometimes, you may commit the offense without even considering it as one. The most common example is when an offender steals from a retail store by simply carrying the merchandise in their pocket or purse. In some cases, it does not even necessarily have to involve lifting of property and you may still be criminalized. Some common examples of petit theft include:
- Switching price tags on retail merchandise with the intention to pay less
- Putting a high-value item into different packaging that has a low-value
- Dining in a restaurant but leaving without paying the bill
- Eating inside a grocery store but not paying for the items consumed
- Watching a movie without paying for it
As a first-time offender, you may not even consider these actions to be an offense; most of the people do them as a prank. However, ignorance of the law cannot be justified as an excuse and you cannot expect to be spared if you are caught committing such a crime, no matter how small it sounds.
Realize the consequences
Most of the states regard grand theft as a felony, even for first-time offenders. Conversely, petit theft is seen as a misdemeanor for first-timers though it may also result in felony charges for the repeat offenders, based on the state laws. Felonies stay on the records and result in high-value fines and you may even have to serve time in a state prison facility. Obviously, this gives you clear reasons not to engage in repeat thefts, even if they are petit in nature. They can spoil your record and ruin your chances of going to college or even getting a good job.
Defenses available for petit theft charges
Considering how serious the consequences of these charges can get, you need to know how you can deal with them. This becomes all the more important if you are a first-time offender and want to keep your record clear. To start with, you will need a seasoned petit theft defense lawyer to guide you and steer your case in the right direction. Also, they can explain the defense options that you can explore based on the circumstances. The availability of these options depends on several factors, such as state laws and details surrounding the incident. The possible defenses include:
- Mistake:The defendant reasonably believed that the property or item stolen was owned by them
- Lack of Intent:The defendant had no intention to deprive the owner of the property (they probably believed they were borrowing it)
- False Accusation:The defendant was wrongfully accused
- Evidence Issues: Evidence to prove the crime was not obtained correctly (for instance, the police did not have a search warrant before they conducted a search in connection with the charges)
- Coercion/Duress:The defendant was forced to commit the crime under threat
Apart from these defenses, there are others that may apply, depending on the individual situation. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can help to determine the types of defense that is apt for a defendant facing these charges.
Options for first-time offenders
Now that you know about the legal defenses you may explore in such cases, you should also be aware about the special considerations if you are a first time offender. A first-time petit theft offender who does not have a previous criminal conviction record may get options like a plea agreement or a pretrial diversion program instead of jail time. Theft diversion programs leverage correctional strategies such as community service, supervision, restitution, and similar elements for a specific period of time. You may also have to go through complete drug or alcohol testing and take education or rehabilitation as a part of the program. Those who are believed to be motivated by addiction may have to undergo counseling and give an assurance to remain drug and alcohol-free for at least a period of 12 months.
Even a small crime like petit theft can have far-reaching implications on your career and education. For this reason, you need to be extra cautious right when you get involved in such an offense for the very first time. Commit to never doing so again and take the right legal steps to get out of the fix at present. It is best to hire an experienced attorney who can save you as well as play an advisory role.