This is a very serious charge. You definitely can't do it alone. If you qualify for the public defender, they are usually knowledgeable, although I don't know the one in Paterson.
Please be advised my answers to questions does not constitute legal advise and you should not rely on it, due to the fact that we have never met, I have not been aprised of the facts in you case nor have I reviewed any documents.
This is a crime of the third degree under NJSA 2C:20-11 because of the amount you stole. Do NOT plea guily without speaking to an attorney first. Ms. Navarette is correct, this is a very serious charge which carries with it a heavy fine, a criminal record and a possible jail sentence.
You can try to get it plead down to a lower degree of either a fourth degree crime or a disorderly persons charge which carry with it a lower penalty but still very serious consequnces.
Speak to an attorney ASAP. You have to qualify for a public defender based on your income after you fill out an application. If you don't then you need a local criminal defense attorney to represent you in court. Whether you retain private counsel or a public defender shouldn't impact the disposition of your case.
If this is a first offense, as you say it is, you can also see if you qualify for PTI, or pretrial intervention. Depending on how this case is disposed of, you will have to wait between two to five years depending on how this case is resolved in order to get it expunged and removed from your criminal record.
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It is important you get legal representation right away. You will need to evaluate your options. You should not discuss this with anyone other than your attorney, particularly representatives from the store offering to "settle" the matter.
This is presently a third degree felony. Jail time is not the issue (almost impossible) it is your record that is at stake. As a first offender you are eligible for PTI (PreTrial Intervention). This usual one year program is loose probation and then a dismissal. You can expunge your record 6 months after. But in Passaic county this can very likely be downgraded to Municipal Court. A PD can do the job but will not get into the case for a while. A private attorney will likely give you better service.
This is a serious charge. In passaic county this will normally be remanded to municipal court. However, because you would qualify for pti at the superior court it is likely in your best interest to keep the charge there. You will need a private lawyer to do this. A public defender cannot because he is limited to one court. Explaining all the reasons and procedure is too involved to do here and you need to call for further explanation. It is important to get this done immediately before the decision is made.