First and foremost I'd like to put it out there that I have already learned my lesson and fully intend to face the consequences of what I tried to do. It was a horrible lapse of judgement on my part and really, there is no good reason for doing what I did. It was an act of desperation and one that I will surely pay for. My question for you all is, because the item I took (a liquid eyeliner), was under 10 dollars, will that give a bit of leniency? I want to plead for a diversion, but I certainly don't have the money for a PD. I can't even sleep I feel so guilty and sick about what I did. I have a clean record prior to this and have never stolen anything before. I don't know what to do. I'm 20 years old and don't know if I should plead to no contest, or guilty or what...
Were you placed under arrest by a police officer or merely detained by store security? In my experience, most retail stores will not contact the police when the item or items stolen are relatively inexpensive. If you were only detained by store security, you can count of getting a civil demand letter in the mail from Kroger asking you to pay a sum of money (usually around $200) in exchange for their agreement not to press charges.
If you were actually arrested and have a court date, judges usually do take into account your youth, experience, clean criminal record, financial situation, and amount of the loss when imposing punishment. It is obviously advisable to retain a criminal defense attorney. If you are unable to do so, speaking with the prosecutor and the judge about the facts of the case and your culpability will go a long way in getting your punishment reduced.
It sounds like you have learned your lesson, about twenty times over. The first advice I have for you isn't legal at all; which is, try and get some sleep! Since you're hardly a career criminal, you should go to bed tonight with this thought: lots of good people makes really dumb mistakes sometimes. If you were a repeat offender maybe it would be a character issue, but you're not a repeat offender.
Now, for a legal answer to your question, given your lack of record, this case may very well qualify for diversion. Diversion is a program most prosecutor's offices have, to allow someone a break, with the ultimate result of having the case dismissed, in exchange for fulfilling a contract. One of the conditions is not to get into any more trouble obviously, but they may ask you to do some community service. If you fail to meet each and every one of the conditions of the diversion contract however, the charge will be restored to the trial docket and you will get no credit for what you've already done. It's sort of liken probation, but without the conviction and the record.
If the prosecutor's office refuses to offer you diversion however, you must face the charge. My best advice then would be, do not plead guilty to theft, or a theft offense. The worst part about a theft offense isn't what will happen to you in court. It's the effect it will have in obtaining a job, filling out an education application, and in countless other areas. It will also affect your credibility in court, if you ever have to testify, even if it's something completely unrelated, like a small claims case. And credibility is a big part of getting through life.
So, I definitely think you should contact a lawyer. Many lawyers have payment plans and may even work with you on the retainer, but get a lawyer. A lawyer can ensure that the prosecution can prove its case and all the necessary witnesses appear, and if so, can at least try and get the charge plea bargained down to something other than a theft offense. Next to a sex offense, a theft offense is about one of the worst "status" offenses to have on your record.
First, the amount or value of the theft is not where the strength of your case lies. It is the fact that you have no other record. Be careful doing this on your own. An attorney will get you the sweetest deal (probably the diversion which is a guilty plea until you complete all terms of the diversion). Alone, you may not get the best deal, but you should not get more than a fine and probation. There is a chance you can get a dismissal if you have counsel and the store does not show up (often, they do not). You probably won't get that without counsel. I wish you luck and a lesson learned.