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First time petty theft- how can I qualify for a public defender? What would be an estimate of the total fees I will pay?

La Jolla, CA |

I am a first year college student and this is my first run-in with the law, ever. I am having all my homebound mail held in hopes to keep this from my parents. How will the court decide if I am eligible for a public defender? I have little money, which led me to steal the textbooks from the bookstore, and am dealing with a recent family disaster. This was incredibly out of character for me, and I am praying to be given a second chance. Is there a possibility for me to be eligible for a diversion program?

What are the chances of getting into a diversion program relying solely on a public defender? And is it possible to get a public defender before the date of the arraignment?

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Attorney answers 3


The possibility of a diversion program depends on the local situation.
I have had clients in your situation either plead to an infraction or enter a plea in abeyance. The infraction does not have to be disclosed. The plea in abeyance does not become a conviction if you comply with the terms and it is dismissed.
Appointment of counsel is a financial consideration of you not your parents.
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At the first court appearance the Judge will ask you if you would like to apply for the public defender. You may have to complete a form or just tell the Judge your income. If you are a college student and do not have a full-time job you will qualify. If there is a diversion program in the court you are in, and you have never been arrested before, you should qualify for that program. I'd there are any fees involved, the Judge will allow you to make payments.



Thank you for your help. I have been getting mixed reviews from different attorneys I have called, but am not quite sure yet on whether my chances of getting into the diversion program are good if I am relying solely on a public defender?


There is also a possibility of a civil compromise under Califorina Penal Code Section 1377. This is a very delicate process because you do not want to look like your are trying to dissuade a witness, which is a separate crime.

Even though i have the greatest respect for Public Defenders, I am going to suggest that you bite the bullet and tell your parents. See if you can get them or other family members to hire a competent and vigorous criminal defense lawyer for you. That lawyer and her or his investigator can make contact with the alleged victim (which I take it is a college bookstore fo some sort). Many retailers, particularly the big chain stores, will not back off a prosecution but a college bookstore might be more sympathetic to your plight.

You would have to offer, through the lawyer, to compromise any claim that they might have against you. If they accept, then your lawyer can communicate this to the DA and, even if the DA does not agree, she or he can take it to the court. If this works, you have a dismissal.

Now, there might be a program in place that is easier and also results in dismissal, Your lawyer can tell you. And, if you really cannot hire a lawyer, you can ask the Public Defender if civil compromise is possible or if there is something easier. The reason that I suggest hiring a lawyer is that you can get a running start on this before the arraignment.

But, either way, talk to your lawyer, private or public, and good luck!

This is not legal advice. In order to get legal advice, you need to retain a lawyer and establish an attorney client relationship. So, talk to your lawyer!

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