It is not clear from your question whether you have been, or are about to be, charged with Retail Theft. Were the police called and did you have any interaction with police or was this all between you and LP (Loss Prevention) and/or store security? My suspicion since you raised the question about a civil demand letter that the police were not involved. If that is the case do nothing (including posting more details on the Internet, Face Book, or talking to people (other than an attorney that you have or are considering hiring). Do not pay anything in response to a civil demand letter. I'm going to refer you to a couple of informative links courtesy of Attorney Judy Goldstein licensed in Illinois. If the police were involved then you absolutely need to talk with local counsel experienced in criminal defense. Most of us provide free consultations. Take advantage of that and talk to two of more. You will at least gain valuable information about what to expect in your county. Good luck.
If this is your first offense, you would qualify for ARD. This offense may only be a summary offense, so it is possible that it can be resolved at the local district court. If you can't afford a lawyer you should see if you qualify for a public defender. In regard the the civil demand, I never have recommended that my clients pay and I have never seen them being sued. Good luck.
I typically tell clients not to pay the civil demand letters because they are not due until a judgment is obtained. The retail stores rarely seek a judgment. Further, it has no effect upon the criminal process. However, you need to obtain an attorney for the criminal matter and proceed from there.
This matter will either be in Northampton or Lehigh County:
1. With either county, you should be eligible for ARD as long as this is your first criminal offense;
2. Both counties have fees/fines/court costs associated with their program that will top around +/-$1200. Northampton county has an initial fee of around $1000 that has to be paid in advance of your ARD court hearing withe the rest tacked on and paid over the course of your ARD probation period. Lehigh county is a bit different in this sense in that you will appear before a judge prior to arraignment who will asses your eligibility for ARD. Once assessed and granted, you will be interviewed by a probation officer who will set you up in the program including costs and payment plans.
3. Again, depends on the county. Including fines/fees/court costs, you will pay upward of $1200.
4. With respect to the civil demand from KMart; your lawyer should draft the appropriate "go pound sand" letter in response, which generally makes the matter go away, especially for such a petty amount of restitution. Again, it all depends on what was stolen, and, most importantly, was it retrieved by the store and able to be placed back on the shelves. Talk to your lawyer about this one carefully.
5. See #4 above.
6. Pro Bono is a very generic term; and I dont know of any pro bono firms that would take such a case; and that presumes that KMart would be willing to expend the significant finacial resources over $78 of restitution that may or may not have already been placed back on the shelf. Understand, those civil demand letters are form letters that go out in every single case like yours in the general hope that people will be too scared to talk to a lawyer about their rights under the specific facts of the case.
Bottom line is that you need to go into the ARD program because if you don't you will have a conviction on your record that WILL impact your employment prospects into the future, especially in such a tight economic environment. Completing ARD means you will not have a conviction on your record, and, you will be able to have that offense expunged from your record. DO NOT dismiss this opportunity.
I hope this helps. Feel free to give my office a call so we can talk about this more - initial consults are free (610)432-7200. All the Best.