Do I need a lawyer for a first offense shoplifting charge?

Womain shoplifting in VirginiaAbsolutely.  A shoplifting charge in Virginia, even for a first offense, is a criminal misdemeanor if the value of the items is less than $500.  If the value is $500 or more, it is a felony even for a first offense.  

Because misdemeanor shoplifting is a Class 1 misdemeanor, it is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.  More importantly, a shoplifting conviction is a permanent blemish on your record that you will have to deal with for the rest of your life.  Having a conviction record could have significant implications for your future, including loss of employment, loss of a security clearance, inability to obtain employment, difficulty obtaining housing, or deportation or ineligibility for immigration benefits if you are not a U.S. citizen.  

Some jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County, have a first offender program for misdemeanor shoplifting.  This program requires you to admit your guilt first, after which the court defers entering its finding of guilt and places you on probation for a period of time.  As part of probation, you will be required to complete a shoplifting education course and a certain number of hours of community service, while also remaining of general good behavior.  At the end of the probation period, assuming you successfully completed it and did not violate the law again, the charge is dismissed.  However, it is very important to note that a charge dismissed under this kind of deferral cannot be expunged from your criminal record under current Virginia law.  Moreover, many jurisdictions do not offer first offender shoplifting programs.  

If you are facing a shoplifting charge, it is critically important to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process and attempt to obtain the most favorable resolution possible.

Muhammad Elsayed
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Criminal, Traffic, and Injury Law Attorney Fluent in English and Arabic