Do not go to court by yourself. It sounds like you would qualify for the public defender - if you can not afford a private criminal attorney use the public defender. Check around, the fee a private attorney will charge might not be as much as you think.
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.
I agree with the first responder here. Seek legal representation whether privately retained or the Public Defender's Office. You've got a lot at stake here, and you only get one try at it. Good luck.
Retail Theft is a Class A misdemenaor, that carries a possible sentence of up to one year in jail. As a first offender in Cook County, however, you should not be concerned about a jail sentence being imposed. Having said that. because it is a jailable offense, the judge will require you to hire an attorney unless you qualify for the services of the public defender. Assuming the evidence against you is sufficient for the state to prove its case (which it may very well not be), an experienced criminal defense attorney can still achieve either a dismissal or other disposition that will allow you to remove this mistake from your permanent record (this is crucial for your future employment prospects and immigration status).
You should also know that the store's lawyers will make a civil demand against you, well in excess of the value of the merchandise. Accordingly, you should hire an attorney who knows how to handle this demand as well as the criminal charge. Do not simply pay the demnd; it will hinder your ability to find a job for the next seven years. Most of us will provide you with a free consultation to discuss your options and fee arrangements. www.galivanlaw.net
I agree with most of the posts here WITH ONE EXCEPTION... I know the goal is to remove this from the public record HOWEVER, once it is expunged, and I am assuming that any attorney worth his weight in spit can get you a disposition that is expungeable, you will have difficulty with your immigration status and becoming a citizen because they will require the records for you citizenship and they will not be available.... SO... you will need to hire a criminal attorney that is knowledgeable of THREE things 1. Criminal Law, 2. Immigration Law, 3. Expungement Law... Generally, it can be removed if done right and the lawyer maintains enough of the certified copies and gets the original police records for you future use in immigration... be wary of a lawyer that just says to expunge it without questioning your immigration status.