Before you decide whether to plead, consider whether you have been charged by the State of Illinois (were you fingerprinted?) or a local municipality. If you are being charged by the state, then this would be a criminal charge. If you are being charged by a local village or town, then your are being charged with a violation of a local municipal ordinance. One difference is whether this will show up on your criminal record and there are other differences as well. Either way, hiring a lawyer (which is not extremely costly for a retail theft case) is a good idea. DO NOT accept probation as probation is a conviction. You are most likely eligible for supervision which is not considered a conviction. If you are in muni court, you can possibly do even better. Please read the following because either way, Walmart's asset recovery team will start to send you letters:
There is a law in the state of Illinois which allows for civil action collection when there is a retail theft. Most people choose to ignore the demand. This demand is for money over and above any fine you pay in compliance with a court order. People may get a few more letters, each time asking for more, and then they stop. While the retailer can sue you, it is extremely rare for anyone to actually be sued. You do not owe any money unless you are sued and the retailer wins. This is a common ploy. Do not pay. If you do, you will be in the national retailers database which could affect your ability to get a job and could impact your life in other ways. If you are uncomfortable, hire a lawyer and have the lawyer write a letter. That should be the end of it.
Here is a good article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120347031996578719.html
The National Retail Theft Database is actually a voluntary list put together by different individual retailers. Further, any member that published the information on the list, can thereafter, remove it. Therefore, if you wish to have the entry removed, as you apparently do, your best bet would be to write a letter to the manager of the particular store and inquire as to what it would take for them to remove the entry.
You will receive a civil demand letter. Retailers call it a fine, but it is NOT a fine and you are not obligated to pay it. Most other attorneys will also tell you not to pay it. Hire an attorney to help you if your are uncomfortable. So many people ask this question and are in your situation that I was asked to write a guide. Please go to this link: http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/should-i-pay-the-civil-demand-letter
Do not plead guilty. A Retail theft conviction is NOT expunge able. Based on the factors stated in your question, you may be an appropriate candidate for supervision to lesser offense or to "theft school" a deferral program.
An experienced criminal defense lawyer will assist you in outlining your options. Avoidance if the Retail Theft conviction is the primary goal.
Of course, every answer is based on the question asked and requires a more complete context. This answer should not be relied upon to make a legal decision. Seek the advice of an experienced criminal defense attorney before acting. Law Offices of Raymond G. Wigell, Ltd. Defenders of the Constitution since 1975/ Aggressive Creative Defense Strategies/ Website: www.waaltd.com 24/7 --(708) 481-4800.
Hire a criminal defense attorney to represent you ASAP. There may be options to a conviction in your jurisdiction. Theft is a crime of moral turpitude and most be handled professionally. Get a good lawyer.
I am trying to give you a general answer to your question. We do not have an attorney-client relationship by this response on the avvo website. I have not been retained to represent you. I am licensed to practice law in Kentucky and in federal court in this state and the Southern District of Indiana. You need to seek legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your area..