First of all: you are *always* allowed to plea not guilty. You *cannot* be penalized for entering a not guilty plea. This is your constitutional right, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. This is not a lie either. A not guilty plea is not the same thing as swearing under oath that you didn't do it. That would be a lie. No, entering a not guilty plea is simply telling the court that you aren't convinced the prosecution can prove its case.
Second: This sounds like what would be a second degree "retail fraud" charge in Michigan, and those can carry a sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. So jail time is definitely a possibility.
Want to avoid that? Hire a lawyer. If you don't have money for an attorney, when you show up to your hearing, tell the court that you don't want to enter a plea, you want a lawyer to be appointed on your behalf. This is also your constitutional right. Exercising it will get you assigned to the local public defender's office.
You will likely end up pleading guilty here, but if you do that with the assistance of a lawyer, you may be able do this in such a way that will avoid you going to jail.
This answer does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
No, you are not lying. You have a 5th Amendment right not to incriminate yourself. By pleading not guilty, you've just done the right thing and the same thing that every other defendant does. Ordinarily, a person would not go to jail on a first offense retail fraud. This being said, the 48th is not a "usual" court and the judges there are particularly tough. Moreover, I think there is really a greater concern than jail time. A retail fraud conviction can change a person's life in a tragic way. Employers, educational institutions and the government will not look favorably upon a conviction involving theft and dishonesty. I get calls all week from people who plead guilty to a retail fraud when they were young and now, several years later, the conviction is preventing them from doing something important to them in file. Plans change over time and though you may not be planning to get a graduate degree or professional job today, that may turn into your plan in the future. A conviction for retail fraud can change the direction of your life in a negative way.
There are statutes that can be used today to help you keep the retail fraud off your record and keep you out of jail. Only an experienced criminal defense lawyer will know the best ways to help you. Many great criminal attorneys on Avvo offer free consultations. Avvo is an excellent place to find a 10.0 Rated Criminal Defense Lawyer to help you with your case.
Mr. Loren Dickstein, Esq.
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