I stumbled across this site in my frantic search for ANY information that could give me peace of mind and some sense of what to expect. While some posts helped, there are not enough full experiences shared for those of us who come searching for some reassurance, so... here is my experience of which I can say turned out as positively as can be expected under the circumstances.
I am a nineteen year old girl, about to be twenty in two weeks; like many of you, I am not a horrible, criminal person; I am actually a straight A college student who just got caught up with shoplifting.
One month ago, I was caught in a department store with $280 of clothes. Also, I had some things from another store in the mall worth about $25 in my purse (I told the LP I had bought that stuff, a lie that made me extremely nervous later on).
I was arrested, finger-printed and bailed out for $500. My bail was actually posted for $1000, but somehow my boyfriend got it lowered. My court day was scheduled in a little over a month (actually, it was today).
I spent the first week or so in expectant misery of my parents finding out about the arrest in the newspaper. Luckily, the arrest was in a different county (therefore, different issue) of our local newspaper, and they never found out.
I spent the second week in nervous expectancy of the cival demand letter I was going to recieve from the department store. I had visions of opening a letter demanding thousands of dollars. It turned out to be only $100, and I wrote a check for it immediately.
The next week I was relatively calm and let myself go out with my boyfriend and friends, but by the fourth week, the week of court, I started freaking out again. I was reading all these things on websites and had no idea what to expect. Here are some of the things I worried about going wrong that did not:
1. That the judge would find out that I had stolen from other stores in the past and prosecute me for this (I was worried that the stores had some type of underground list of people they thought had shoplifted but that they had not caught; I do not think they do, but who knows?)
2. That I would be in tons of trouble because the stuff I stole from the other store would be mentioned by the LP officers report which led me to worry that...
3. The LP officer would be in court and say she thought that I did steal the stuff I had said I did not.
So, by this point, I was convinced I was going to go to jail, or at least be fined a TON OF MONEY or get community service; then I really started to worry about not having a lawyer; I thought I was going to go to jail because they would take advantage of me not having a lawyer.
Well, I went to court today, a nervous wreck. I sat in the courtroom with a bunch of people whose cases were being presented. My name was called in the middle of court hearings by the bailiff. I walked up to a little podium and was trying not to cry, but my knees were knocking uncontrollably.
The judge read my charge, asked if I knew of the consequences, and asked how I pled; I told him I pled guilty (I had to sign a paper saying this before court started)
A guy who I guess was the state prosecuter said I have no criminal history not even any driving infractions and that he moved to put me on probation. The judge said okay, and believe it or not, THAT WAS IT. I went into another room, got charged about $240 in court costs (the cost was taken out of the bond) and put on a one year probation (I do not have to meet with a probation officer or anything, just not get in trouble for one year), and I went home.
Now, I am not saying what happened to me is what will happen to you; perhaps laws are stricter in your state/city (I am from NW Indiana), and perhaps I got lucky, but if you are like me, searching for any reassurance that your horrible experience may turn out okay, I hope my story will help. You can get through this....without a lawyer or your parents finding out.