I am 18 from TN and this is my first time EVER getting in trouble; my record is totally clean. I have a court date and I am totally lost about how to handle the situation. Should I plead guilty? Or not guilty, in order to get a public defender? I feel if I have a public defender I may have a less harsh punishment? What are possible consequences for my situation?
I would strongly recommend that you obtain a lawyer immediately, either a private attorney or court-appointed counsel (if you qualify for one). Although a shoplifting charge may seem relatively minor, the charge & potential conviction for same can have long-lasting effects. For example, shoplifting could be viewed by potential employers as a "crime of dishonesty," which could severely impact you ability to obtain employment in the future.
Your best outcome is to obtain a dismissal of the charge and have the arrest itself expunged from your public record.
Lawsuit / Dispute Attorney
Obtain a lawyer immediately. Retain either a private attorney or court-appointed counsel if you qualify for one.
Potential conviction for what seems a minor shoplifting charge can create long-lasting problems for college applications, job interviews, mortgage requests, bank loans, etc...
The best outcome is to obtain a dismissal but you need a lawyer to give yourself the best chance for that.To make sure all direct and collateral consequences are known to you, you may consider to hire an attorney.
You can miss and say the wrong things if you are not represented by an advocate as your attorney.
You might find my Legal Guide helpful "Ethics: Yes I Need a Lawyer!"
You might find my Legal Guide helpful "How to Choose A Lawyer For You."
You might read my Legal Guide "Can An Attorney Really Help?"
Ask yourself, do I really want to go it alone?
The Judge Cannot Help You
Remember, if you represent yourself the same standard as a professional attorney is applied to you. The Judge cannot give you assistance and maintain the required courtroom decorum of being fair and impartial to both sides.
All Rules Apply Equally To You
As pro se, you'll be held accountable for having the same information about the rules of court, rules of law, and rules of evidence as an attorney who has years of experience handling cases. The judge would be right not to give you any breaks. If you file a brief or motion to dismiss incorrectly without following either or both of the procedural or substantive rules it can and most likely will get thrown out of court.
What You Do (Or Don't Do) Can Mess Up Your Appeal Rights
If your case ends up going south with you losing you cannot appeal based on not having had done things as well as an attorney. Every Judge I know warns pro se parties that representing themselves is not a good idea. The judges have a reason for doing this; IT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA
Good luck to you.
NOTE: This answer is made available by the out-of-state lawyer for educational purposes only and is not like communication with a lawyer with whom you have an attorney client relationship along with all the privileges that relationship provides There is no attorney client privilege between you and the attorney responding.
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Absolutely, plead not guilty and speak to the public defender before making any decisions. You may have a defense that you are unaware of and, at the very least, the public defender will be able to help you get the very best result possible.