You should still consult a few private local AZ criminal attorney - it may not cost as much as you think & many offer payment plans. This is a theft charge & can effect future student loans, employment etc. If you determine you can afford a private attorney, then contact the public defender's office to qualify for their representation. Do not try to handle this yourself. Good luck
This is not intended to be legal advise or as legal representation. I am a California personal injury attorney . Be aware that every state has its own statute of limitations; and statutes & case laws that govern the handling of these matters.
Sometimes a diversion program is available for a first time offender. This would likely include a requirement that you take a diversion class that once completed would earn a dismissal of the criminal case. It is not available in all cases. It depends on what jurisdiction and court you are being charged in. As noted above, a criminal conviction can effect you in many ways and I strongly suggest you seek out the assistance of an attorney who is experienced in this area of practice.
My father used to have a saying, "Can you afford not to." You are correct that this crime can stay with you for the rest of your life. It will impact what career you can go into. Talk with an attorney. See what the fees are. See if they have payment plans for you. Try and get a diversion so the case can be dismissed. You might be able to get it on your own but if you can't, it will be too late for an attorney to argue for you to get the diversion option. Before you do anything give a couple of lawyers a call.