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.