Its more common than you think. Shoplifting-related charges are routinely laid against people from all walks of life. In many situations, whether it’s taking an item or two or switching price tags, the experiences are often similar.
You go to a mall to do some shopping and browsing. As youre looking around, a strange and sudden impulse overcomes you. You pick something up and slip it into your pocket or bag. The item may not even be something you really need. You continue to walk up and down the aisles and then casually head for the exit. Just as you cross the line of cashiers, youre approached by a couple of security guards. You offer to pay but it’s too late. Youre being arrested for theft. You cannot undo what youve done.
Youre escorted to the back room where your wallet or purse is searched. Your personal details are recorded and you are handed a piece of paper saying that you cannot return to the store or mall for a period of a year or more. Then you find out that the police have been called and you must sit and await their arrival.
The police officer shows up and asks the security guards about the incident. You listen with humiliation as the security person tells the officer of how you were observed stealing. The officer verifies your name, address, date of birth, and occupation. Then youre handed a blue piece of paper and told that you will be charged with theft and must appear in court and also appear at the police station for photographs and fingerprints. Finally, after two or three hours of enduring this process, youre released.
You may not even know why you did what you did. But you know you feel terrible. You have to hide it from your family. You have many questions. What will happen when I go for photographs and fingerprinting? What will happen to me in court? Will I get a criminal record? Will I go to jail? What if I just dont go? What do I do now?
The blue piece of paper you were handed is called an Appearance Notice. It sets out the date, time, and location of your required appearances for the identification process and for court. It is a criminal offence to not attend for either of these purposes. If you fail to go, you will likely be arrested, charged with further criminal offences, and held in jail for a bail hearing.
The photographs and fingerprints are taken pursuant to the Identification of Criminals Act. Generally, these stay on file with the police indefinitely. However, in some circumstances, a successful application may be made to have them destroyed.
The charge you are facing is a criminal offence. Generally, in criminal proceedings, you have two choices to plead guilty or not guilty. If you plead guilty, you will then be sentenced by the judge. The range of sentences encompass everything from a discharge to jail. What you are likely to receive will depend on the particular circumstances of your case. Regardless of the sentence, you will be saddled with a criminal record.
If you choose to plead not guilty, then you will have to go to trial. At trial, the judge will consider all the evidence tendered and then make a decision as to whether you have been proven guilty.
In the case of shoplifting-related offences, there may be another option available. In some instances, it may be possible to ultimately get the charge either withdrawn or stayed. This means that you will not end up with a criminal record. Whether this option is available to you will depend on many factors including the circumstances of the offence, your personal background, and the jurisdiction in which you have been charged. In order to attain this result, you will be required to fulfil certain obligations. If successful, you may even be able to get your photographs and fingerprints destroyed.
For the untrained person, manouvering through the criminal justice system can be an extremely unpleasant and harrowing encounter. An experienced criminal lawyer can often deal with such matters quickly, quietly, and effectively.