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  1. #1
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    Default Shoplifting charge in NJ and Citizenship

    I am totally sleepless the whole night and distressed and sending this post. I am helpless and desperate.. Please, please help me with some pointers.

    A few days ago, I went to return some goods that I bought from a Dept store and was told as per their policy, that I could not return those as some of them were past the "Return by" date and the others had no receipts. I was totally enraged and set out to seek justice.

    I thought about it and after a few days, on 5/29 , I took all of the old merchandise back to the store and I did the exchange myself, picking whatever I wanted which I thought was similar in value, and leaving the old goods in the fitting rooms. Which was very very stupid, BTW. Later, when I was leaving the store I was stopped and they did not buy my story as the old merchandise that I left in the several fitting rooms were returned to various spots by the store people and I had no proof. To make the long story short, they called the cops as I did not have any receipts for the goods, I was leaving with. Thinking back, I could not have done anything more stupid and I'm a total wreck now, because of what happened afterwards. I will regret this all my life.

    Somehow, the Store security came up with $691 as shop lifting charge, although I have no idea the goods were really worth that much. May be they took the retail value. I was hyper ventilating and almost passed out when they questioned me in the store that I didn't realize or inquire how they came up with that amount. Anyway, I was arrested for shoplifting and taken to the police station. A charge was filed and I was finger printed although I begged them several times that I had just applied for citizenship a month ago (I am a Permanent Resident now) and anytime waiting for a call for Finger Printing from INS. The police didn't care. They gave me a summon (green form) which states that I had shoplifted and a court date is set for tomorrow (6/1).

    One of the cops told me that it was upto me, if I wanted to plead guilty or not - but he advised that if I did not plead guilty, then they would have to call me several times to the Court and the store will bring the video recording to prove that I had left without paying for goods. On the other hand, if I pleaded guilty, then the Judge would only fine me as this is my first offense. He said that I should not have a problem with Immigration as this is considered "Misdemeanor" and not a "Criminal felony/offense" - although I'm not sure if he is right.

    My question is, does anyone know, if I pleaded guilty would the charge be "Dismissed", if I paid a fine. Or would it mean that if I pleaded guilty I automatically become "convicted" (which is very bad for Naturalization purposes, I think) - I do not understand these terms very well.

    My questions are:
    1. This is my first offense. What should I do in the Court day after tomorrow? Plead guilty or not? I have been advised by a friend, not to tell the Judge anything about returning old goods because it would mean that I came to the store with an intent to replace/steal. Also, the Store never believed it even when I asked them to go and check the fitting rooms for clothes that I had returned.

    2. If I do plead guilty and tell the Judge that this is my first offense and I will not ever do this again, Is there a chance he will only ask me to pay a fine and let me go, without a jail sentence. This is what the cops at the Police Dept said, generally happens. I read somewhere on a website, that shoplifting charge between $500 - $75000 is considered a 2nd degree offense. Does this mean, that I cannot just get away with a fine, but there will be more severe Punishment?

    3. I also heard that sometimes you have to do both Community service and pay a fine. Because I am a mother of a young child and have a full time job, I dont know if I have the time for Comm service. Tomorrow, if the Judge asks me to do Comm service, is it wise for me to ask him for an alternative?

    4. Do I really need an attorney to represent me for this shoplifting charge - in order to reduce this to a lesser punishment and possible expungement later on for immigration/naturalization purposes? Since I have only half a day left, I do not even know where to look for a Criminal attorney before 8.30 a.m tomorrow (6/1) morning.

    5. If I do plead guilty, will I be considered "Convicted" regardless of the severity of the punishment. In other words if I'm only asked to pay a fine or do Community service would the charge be considered dismissed - once I pay the fine / do Comm. service or will I be "Convicted" - the word "Convicted" has a very significant play in Citizenship interview, I believe.

    6. Is there a website or so for NJ laws, specifically related to shoplifting charge and related punishment .Although, this is entirely upto the Judge, I just want to get a general idea about punishment.

    I was planning to go to the Court by myself to deal with this, (although I'm mentally unprepared for the whole thing) because it would be such a disgrace to my family if they ever come to know.

    I have come to this forum for help, because I cannot discuss this with anyone else. Can someone please please please have pity and advise me.
    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Urgent - Pls Help -Shoplifting charge in NJ and Citizens

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    1. This is my first offense. What should I do in the Court day after tomorrow? Plead guilty or not? I have been advised by a friend, not to tell the Judge anything about returning old goods because it would mean that I came to the store with an intent to replace/steal. Also, the Store never believed it even when I asked them to go and check the fitting rooms for clothes that I had returned.
    You should consult a lawyer. It sounds like this will be your first appearance - an arraignment. You can indicate to the court that you wish to consult a lawyer before entering a plea, and the judge will normally accommodate you.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    2. If I do plead guilty and tell the Judge that this is my first offense and I will not ever do this again, Is there a chance he will only ask me to pay a fine and let me go, without a jail sentence. This is what the cops at the Police Dept said, generally happens. I read somewhere on a website, that shoplifting charge between $500 - $75000 is considered a 2nd degree offense. Does this mean, that I cannot just get away with a fine, but there will be more severe Punishment?
    There is a chance that the judge will accept your plea and sentence you to a fine and probation. However, you should also discuss possible immigration ramifications with a lawyer, and get an opinion as to what is likely to happen with this particular judge and these particular circumstances.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    3. I also heard that sometimes you have to do both Community service and pay a fine. Because I am a mother of a young child and have a full time job, I dont know if I have the time for Comm service. Tomorrow, if the Judge asks me to do Comm service, is it wise for me to ask him for an alternative?
    If you are offered community service instead of jail, you should be grateful to avoid the jail sentence.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    4. Do I really need an attorney to represent me for this shoplifting charge - in order to reduce this to a lesser punishment and possible expungement later on for immigration/naturalization purposes? Since I have only half a day left, I do not even know where to look for a Criminal attorney before 8.30 a.m tomorrow (6/1) morning.
    If you don't have time to retain an attorney before the court hearing, you should tell the court that you have not yet been able to retain counsel and wish to do so. If you are of limited means, you may wish to petition for a public defender or appointed lawyer.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    5. If I do plead guilty, will I be considered "Convicted" regardless of the severity of the punishment. In other words if I'm only asked to pay a fine or do Community service would the charge be considered dismissed - once I pay the fine / do Comm. service or will I be "Convicted" - the word "Convicted" has a very significant play in Citizenship interview, I believe.
    If you plead guilty, you will be convicted.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    6. Is there a website or so for NJ laws, specifically related to shoplifting charge and related punishment .Although, this is entirely upto the Judge, I just want to get a general idea about punishment.
    I'm not aware of any such site.

  3. #3
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    Default

    I can't give you any legal advise, but I am in almost the same situation with the same charges that you had and with an immigration case in progress. I hired a criminal lawyer who is trying to reduce or even not record a conviction. I also went to an immigration lawyer and was told that a misdimineour is grounds for deportation if the crime is puishable with a one year or more jail time (even if you don't actually go to jail). He told me to plea guilty to a third degree shoplifting (93 days maximum as opposed to a second degree which is up to one year).

  4. #4
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    Default Public Defender / Court appointed Lawyer - Difference?

    Aaron -

    I'm very grateful for your quick response. Thanks a lot.

    I was mostly thinking of pleading guilty tomorrow - hoping that the Judge would only fine me. But somehow, after reading a few posts on this forum, I am scared that a jail sentence is a possibility - perhaps because of the amout of shoplifting being 2nd degree - $691.

    1. Does the amount have any significance, when the Judge decides the extent of punishment - Fine, Community Service, Jail time etc. What are the deciding factors? In my case specifically, is Jail time a possibility - this being my first offense.

    2. Also a point to note is that, the Cops took me to the Police Dept and after filing a charge and finger printing, took me back to the Store where I had my car parked and let me go with the summon. The reason I'm mentioning this is - there was no mention of bail or anything. Because there was no bail or whatsoever, does this mean it is a petty theft and subsequently lesser punishment?

    From your response, it looks like it may be better for me to consult a lawyer. Because I have not mentioned this to any one else except one friend who lives far away, I'm on my own looking for an attorney. I do not know how to even find one that would not charge me a lot.

    2. You said if I'm of limited means then I can ask for a Public Defender or Court appointed lawyer. Is there a difference between the two? Is one better than the other in terms of really putting all their efforts in getting a lesser punishment for me? Do I have to pay any of them?

    3. Also how does the Court verify or determine that I'm a person with lesser means? Is it simply my words that they believe (or) are they going to find out about my employment? I really do not want them to ask me where I work - because if by chance my employer information goes on record with the Court and my employer is contacted or finds out some how - I may risk losing my job.

    4. If I tell the Judge that I wish to appoint a Counsel but I haven't done so yet - what will he do? Will he just postpone my hearing (I do not know the exact legal terms for postponing) for another day?

    5. Aaron, I believe you are a lawyer. Do you know any criminal lawyers in NJ that you can recommend? Please, I dont know where to look - even if I did I have no way of finding out if he's a good / reasonable lawyer.

    6. Almost all the cops at the Police Dept told me that I would just be fined, and no jail time - this being my 1st offense. Could that not be true? I know no one can predit what happens at Court tomorrow - I guess I simply started believing it would be just a fine - and after reading some posts - now I'm confused.

    Please help me once again.
    Thanks.

  5. #5
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    Default

    Quote Quoting brunad
    I can't give you any legal advise, but I am in almost the same situation with the same charges that you had and with an immigration case in progress. I hired a criminal lawyer who is trying to reduce or even not record a conviction. I also went to an immigration lawyer and was told that a misdimineour is grounds for deportation if the crime is puishable with a one year or more jail time (even if you don't actually go to jail). He told me to plea guilty to a third degree shoplifting (93 days maximum as opposed to a second degree which is up to one year).
    Brunad -
    Thanks for your advise.

    Does any one know if the 2nd degree / 3rd degree offense - how is that determined. Is is the amount / value of merchandise of Retail Fraud that determines the degree?

    In that case, Brunad - If it was already determined as 2nd Degree offense (because of the value of the merchandise), how could your lawyer or you plead or change it to a Third Degree offense. Please clarify.

    Brunad - If you dont mind, can you tell me how much did the Criminal lawyer cost you? I need to know this as a ball park, so I will know right away whether I can afford one or to go with a court appointed attorney. But my feeling is, if it is an attorney who you hire, they will work in getting you a lesser punishment as opposed to the court appointed one.
    And how did you find your attorney?

    My email is jen_immi@yahoo.com. Brunad, please email me there - I have some specific questions for you related to immigration that I would rather ask you directly or even talk to you. I'm really that desperate as I have my court appearance, first thing tomorrow morning.

    Does any one know of any good and reasonable Criminal attorney in NJ? Please post it in this thread.
    Thanks once again.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Public Defender / Court appointed Lawyer - Difference?

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    1. Does the amount have any significance, when the Judge decides the extent of punishment - Fine, Community Service, Jail time etc. What are the deciding factors? In my case specifically, is Jail time a possibility - this being my first offense.
    The amount stolen can impact the sentence.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    2. Also a point to note is that, the Cops took me to the Police Dept and after filing a charge and finger printing, took me back to the Store where I had my car parked and let me go with the summon. The reason I'm mentioning this is - there was no mention of bail or anything. Because there was no bail or whatsoever, does this mean it is a petty theft and subsequently lesser punishment?
    It means that it is a less serious crime than one for which you would have been held until posting bail.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    2. You said if I'm of limited means then I can ask for a Public Defender or Court appointed lawyer. Is there a difference between the two? Is one better than the other in terms of really putting all their efforts in getting a lesser punishment for me? Do I have to pay any of them?
    A public defender works for a public defender's office. An appointed lawyer (who is not a public defender) is usually either on contract with the court to take a certain number of cases, or is a private attorney who accepts appointments to represent indigent defendants. Usually you do not have to repay the County for an appointed lawyer if you are acquitted, but you will likely be assessed an attorney fee if you enter a plea agreement or are convicted at trial.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    3. Also how does the Court verify or determine that I'm a person with lesser means? Is it simply my words that they believe (or) are they going to find out about my employment? I really do not want them to ask me where I work - because if by chance my employer information goes on record with the Court and my employer is contacted or finds out some how - I may risk losing my job.
    You would fill out an affidavit describing your means.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    4. If I tell the Judge that I wish to appoint a Counsel but I haven't done so yet - what will he do? Will he just postpone my hearing (I do not know the exact legal terms for postponing) for another day?
    I don't even know what court hearing is scheduled, so I don't know. If it is an arraignment, the judge may suggest that you enter a not guilty plea, and schedule further proceedings. During the period of time before the next hearing the court will rule on your petition for counsel, or you can find and retain counsel.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    5. Aaron, I believe you are a lawyer. Do you know any criminal lawyers in NJ that you can recommend? Please, I dont know where to look - even if I did I have no way of finding out if he's a good / reasonable lawyer.
    I am not able to refer you to any criminal defense lawyers in New Jersey.

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    6. Almost all the cops at the Police Dept told me that I would just be fined, and no jail time - this being my 1st offense. Could that not be true? I know no one can predit what happens at Court tomorrow - I guess I simply started believing it would be just a fine - and after reading some posts - now I'm confused.
    I can't guarantee what your sentence will be, and neither can the officers. However, (a) you have immigration issues that you should discuss with a lawyer, and (b) a lawyer can give you a pretty good idea of what the outcome of your case is likely to be.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Public Defender / Court appointed Lawyer - Difference?

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    4. If I tell the Judge that I wish to appoint a Counsel but I haven't done so yet - what will he do? Will he just postpone my hearing (I do not know the exact legal terms for postponing) for another day?
    I don't even know what court hearing is scheduled, so I don't know. If it is an arraignment, the judge may suggest that you enter a not guilty plea, and schedule further proceedings. During the period of time before the next hearing the court will rule on your petition for counsel, or you can find and retain counsel.

    Aaron -
    Thanks again. You are right. I just confirmed with the Police Dept, tomorrow it is arraignment for me.

    You said "the court will rule on your petition for counsel, or you can find and retain counsel".
    What does this actually mean? I am sorry - I'm not able to understand that. Can you explain in some other words, what this means.. "the court will rule on your petition for counsel".

    I just called the Police Department to find out what happens if I do not bring an attorney and they said exactly what you had mentioned. That the Judge will consider it as "Not guilty" and then send it to a Prosecutor's office and call me another day for hearing (I suppose the word is hearing).
    And by then I should find an attorney.

    * Do you know how much an attorney will charge me (a ball park figure) for representing me in an offense like this?

    Thanks.

  8. #8
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    Default

    You said "the court will rule on your petition for counsel, or you can find and retain counsel".
    What does this actually mean? I am sorry - I'm not able to understand that. Can you explain in some other words, what this means.. "the court will rule on your petition for counsel".
    the court will rule (decide) on your petition for counsel (when you ask for a court appointed PD) means they will decide to give you a free lawyer or not.

    you can find & retain (hire) counsel (a lawyer)

  9. #9
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    Default Follow-up on my case

    Here is a f/up on my case..

    On the day of my arraignment, even before the Judge came I asked the prosecutor if there was a chance for me to get into Pre-trial intervention program. Since he was very busy, he just asked me to plead not guilty - which I did.

    It took nearly two and a half hours before the Judge called me and by then, I was totally nervous and over whelmed that I was almost passing out when the Judge was reading out to me the possible sentencing that I would get, this being my first offense. He said $500 fine, possible community service, suspended jail time (I dont even know how many days) possibly one month if I ever enter the same store in the next 30 days etc. But the Judge said that the case is being sent to the County court for review. I was a complete wreck as I told the Judge & Prosecutor that I have a immigration case in progress. Both of them suggested that I should hire an attorney to represent me.

    Before I stepped out of the Court, I asked the Prosecutor if he knew any attorney that I could use, because I didnt even know where to start. He actually suggested an attorney's name who I found out later on, was a Public defender in the past.

    So, all these days I was waiting to hear from them and now I got a court letter stating that my case is downgraded with the same charge 2C:20-11B and is sent back to the Municipal Court where hopefully I would end up with the same Public Prosecutor and hopefully the same Judge. My trial date is set for Aug 10. And I still am looking for an attorney!!

    In the meanwhile on a side track, I got my letter for Finger Printing for my Citizenship application. What an irony! I do not even know if after this, I'll get a call for Citizenship interview or even if I do, by then they would have my Finger printing results and thereby my arrest record as well from FBI.

    My questions are:

    1. Is it a good idea to hire an attorney who was an ex-Public defender to represent me? In general, I have read from some other posts that Public Defenders do not care so much about the cases they represent.

    2. Since this attorney was kind of suggested by the Public Prosecutor himself, am I wrong in assuming that because of their familiarity they will work out a better deal for me?

    3. How can one go about getting the case dismissed on a shoplifting offense?

    4. What does placing a person on probation mean? I see that in several posts here. What does probation mean?

    5. When a person gets placed on probation could that mean they were not convicted and that their case was dismissed because they agreed to get on probation.

    I had tried calling a few attorneys from Yellow Pages etc and some of them even scared me with deportation etc and I'm really very threatened and am sure will not hire such attorneys who use such mode of threatening to get a client. I'm still looking for a Criminal defense attorney and if anyone knows a link or a good criminal attorney in NJ pls post that info in this thread.

    Please Aaron or anyone who's reading this, please help with my questions above. Thanks in advance.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Follow-up on my case

    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    1. Is it a good idea to hire an attorney who was an ex-Public defender to represent me? In general, I have read from some other posts that Public Defenders do not care so much about the cases they represent.
    First, he's not a public defender any more. He's in private practice. Second, it's a silly stereotype. Most of the best and worst attorneys are in private practice, and the average public defender is better than the average private criminal defense lawyer.
    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    2. Since this attorney was kind of suggested by the Public Prosecutor himself, am I wrong in assuming that because of their familiarity they will work out a better deal for me?
    I don't know that the familiarity will mean a better deal, but it sure beats animosity.
    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    3. How can one go about getting the case dismissed on a shoplifting offense?
    That's something best discussed with an attorney who is familiar with the details of the case.
    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    4. What does placing a person on probation mean? I see that in several posts here. What does probation mean?
    It depends upon the court system. In general it means meeting periodically with a probation officer, fulfilling certain requirements set by the court, and staying out of trouble.
    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    5. When a person gets placed on probation could that mean they were not convicted and that their case was dismissed because they agreed to get on probation.
    That is not what "probation" means. However, probation can be part of a "delayed disposition", meaning that if the offender successfully completes probation a charge will be dismissed.
    Quote Quoting jenimmi
    I had tried calling a few attorneys from Yellow Pages etc and some of them even scared me with deportation etc and I'm really very threatened and am sure will not hire such attorneys who use such mode of threatening to get a client.
    As your case involves immigration issues, those are issues you should discuss with your lawyer, even if they seem scary.

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