I was detained at Costco, and they made me sign a piece of paper saying they were professional and kind in the handling of the matter and said they probably wouldn't call the police but then they did. They took my phone and said I couldn't make any phone calls, and that my children (who were with me) may be taken from me. What will happen if I go to court and plead guilty? Will I be able to request a diversion program? Also my husband is a Marine and he has orders to leave for Japan this fall. Will this affect my ability to go with him? Or my ability to get a passport? We have a little money but I'm afraid they will make me pay for a lawyer and I'm not sure with three babies we can afford that easily.
If money is a concern, request that the public defender be appointed. Do not plead guilty. Worse thing the judge can do is say you make too much, the. You can browse around for a private you can afford.
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You're not obligated to pay damages directly to the store simply because they have a law firm mail you a demand letter. They'd have to sue you in court, and it's doubtful they will go to the trouble of doing so because it's time and cost prohibitive for them.
As for the criminal case, you're entitled to have a public defender to represent you if you can't otherwise hire an attorney. The public defender will speak with you at your first court appearance, and will probably be able to advise you about the strengths and weaknesses of your case at that time. Often times in San Diego a guilty plea to a first time petty theft will be downgraded to an infraction if the person completes a theft prevention class. If you do so there should be no problem with you accompanying your husband to Japan.
As was mentioned by the other attorneys, if you do not have the means to pay for representation, the court may appoint the public defender to represent you... Depending on which courthouse you have your case in will determine what kind of deal and/or diversion you can work out for your charges. Each branch office handles the cases a little different--Downtown, Vista, El Cajon, or Chula Vista. Downtown is probably the "best" place to have your case as the City Attorney prosecutes those cases and are generally easier to obtain a better deal. The other factor the prosecutor considers is the amount of property taken when determining whether to reduce the charge or make a better offer to settle the case. You should plead not guilty and attempt to obtain a reduction to an infraction or obtain diverson resulting in a dismissal of the charges if possible. To obtain a better offer it may require some work on your part like community service and completing a shoplifting course online.
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