Petit theft charges may involve shoplifting, bicycle theft, or stealing small items from a residence when lawfully allowed to be there.
In Florida, petit theft is classified as theft of an item or items with a total monetary value under the amount of $300. Anything more than $300 is considered grand theft, in which case the charges will be significantly more serious.
Diversion for First Offenders
Generally, most petit theft cases involve first offenders. Since many criminal courts have some form of diversion program for petit theft, most frequently arising as shoplifting, this is a viable alternative for a lot of people.
Normally, after completion of an anti-theft class and some community service, the state will dismiss the charge. It is not uncommon to have an arrest and court record sealed or expunged after the dismissal. However, in some states, including my jurisdiction of Florida, a third petit theft conviction may be treated as a felony, with the possibility of considerable jail time.
Petit theft charges can be successfully defended in court on the merits, however. Often, the state is unable to prove the essential elements of the case at the time of trial. Many times, witnesses do not appear in court for this low level type of offense. Large department stores such as Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom's, and Sears as well as other stores like Target, Wal-Mart and K-Mart have closed circuit video cameras which are able to record offenders. Many times, however, the store security officer will not bring this crucial evidence to court. Many times, the tape recording does not support the allegations of the security officer.
Accepting a term of probation is also a path some people choose when charged with petit theft. You will also be responsible for making full restitution to the victim in your petty theft case. During the time of your petty theft probation you are not allowed to violate the laws of any city, state, or of the United States. Many jurisdictions prohibit travel outside the county while on probation, unless approved by the court having jurisdiction over the case.
Other Potential Conditions
The judge in your petty theft case has the authority to enter any other conditions he or she deems appropriate to your specific case. Community service, fines and court costs are all possible sanctions that the court might impose as a special condition of a probationary term.
An experienced criminal attorney can help finding the least punitive of sentences and help put the incident in the past. While going in front of the judge on your own may save you a few dollars now, it might end up costing you in the long run.