A CCTV camera catching shoplifters

Do you need an attorney for a first-time shoplifting case?

Shoplifting – which is classified as theft under Texas law – is one of the most common types of criminal offenses filed in the Houston area. Shoplifting cases range from Class “C” misdemeanors to first-degree felonies depending on the value alleged to have been stolen. The vast majority of first-time shoplifting cases are filed as misdemeanors, with most relating to arrests made at large stores such as Wal-Mart. 

If you are facing a misdemeanor shoplifting charge in the Houston area, one common question is whether it is necessary to hire an attorney to represent you in court at all. After all, it is very likely that your case is not filed as a felony and it is unlikely that you are realistically facing jail time, particularly if you have no prior criminal history. Below are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to hire an attorney to represent you on a shoplifting charge. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that although most shoplifting cases are filed as misdemeanors, they can be more damaging to a person’s future than many felonies. The reason for this is simple – if you are convicted of theft, you will encounter difficulty finding a job because employers do not want to hire people that have been labeled as thieves. A theft conviction could also make it more difficult to find housing or even obtain credit. Additionally, if you are not a United States Citizen, a theft conviction could be a huge problem in obtaining legal status in the country, as theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude under Federal Immigration Law, which is a special category of criminal offenses that can be particularly damaging to a person’s immigration status.  As a result, even a shoplifting case should not be taken lightly.  

To get a good result in any criminal case, including a shoplifting case, it is important to work to get the case dismissed in every way possible. One way to get a first-time shoplifting case dismissed is by attacking the facts of the case and convincing the District Attorney to dismiss it based on a problem with the facts (for example, if it can’t be proved that a person took an item intentionally). To do this, it is necessary to obtain and evaluate the evidence, which in most shoplifting cases is typically the offense report and surveillance videos. Without an attorney, it would be difficult to obtain the evidence from the District Attorney’s office or know that what has been received is actually complete. An experienced shoplifting attorney will not only know how to go about obtaining the evidence, he will be able to evaluate the case to determine whether a factual problem actually exists with the case that could lead to a dismissal. 

It is also important to have an attorney on your side to advocate for you in court, and negotiate with the District Attorney’s Office on your behalf. Handling a criminal case is an art and is largely based on relationships with judges, prosecutors, and court staff. An experienced shoplifting attorney will be able to navigate these relationships much better than a first-time shoplifting defendant, who is likely completely new to the legal system. Additionally, a defendant who is inexperienced would have difficulty with any offers to resolve the case that may be made. The legal system is complex and it is critical to be able to fully understand all of the consequences of any resolution of a shoplifting case. 

In short, you should never represent yourself in a first-time shoplifting case. The stakes are too high and the complexities you will face are too great. Money should never be the reason you are not represented by an attorney in a first-time shoplifting case. If you cannot afford your own attorney, the court has a legal obligation to provide you with representation. Many court-appointed attorneys are excellent, although you do not get to choose the one you want, and frequently they are handling many cases. 

Ideally, you should be represented by a shoplifting attorney who focuses on criminal cases and who is familiar with the court where your case is charged. It is also important that your shoplifting attorney has a clear strategy to defend the case and a good track record of getting shoplifting cases dismissed. Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor who regularly obtains dismissals in shoplifting cases throughout the Greater Houston area. If you are charged with theft, call Ceja Law Firm today for a free consultation.