Your question does not indicate whether you have gone to court for this case or are awaiting your first court date. Either way, my first piece of advice is that you do everything possible to make the best possible impression on the Judge, the prosecutor, and everyone else you encounter in court. Dress as if you are going to church. Answer all questions, "Yes sir, no sir, yes mam, no mam." If you are addressing a judge, it is, "Yes Your Honor, No Your Honor." Based on my experience as a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney, I can't imagine someone with no record going to jail for shoplifting (incidentally one of my first jobs was as an LP for Filenes so I have some knowledge on that front as well). Do not panic. See if you can resolve your case with a disposition that does not involve you admitting guilt. This will preserve your record and protect your future. In Mass we call this Pre-trial Probation, but I am sure California has its own program for first offenders that is called by another name. No matter what you do, seek the advice of an experinced California Criminal Defense attorney. If you can't afford to hire one, you might still benefit from a free consultation. Depending on the rules in California, you might qualify for a court-appointed attorney. In Massachusetts, the court will only appoint an attorney when there is a possibility of incarceration. Good luck, and use better judgement next time.
Nicolas A. Gordon
Incidents like this only get on your record if you're actually charged by the District Attorney's office and you're convicted.
There are many options in California that a defense attorney can try to work out for you and keep this incident off your record. Every jurisdiction and prosecuting office has different programs and deals they can offer. Given the low dollar amount, it's unlikely you will serve time, although petty theft is a priorable offense. What that means is that if you're convicted this first time and serve at least one day in jail, a second offense for petty theft can be charged as a "petty theft with a prior" - a crime that can be filed as a felony. See the links to blog posts on my website for more information. Hope they help answer questions for you.
The best way to get this off your record is not to let it get on there in the first place. Don't plead guilty, but get a lawyer and fight it. I accept cases in San Jose. You can call me for a free consultation. You should NOT go into this alone. Try to imagine an employer to whom a THEFT conviction WON'T make a difference in hiring or firing? you are more likely to go to jail if you do NOT get an attorney, in my experience.