It is no fun having to go to court and face the judge and prosecutor alone on a criminal case, especially theft charges. And at its core, that is what a notice to appear makes you do–you must appear before a judge and prosecutor to begin the long process of dealing with your shoplifting or petit theft charge. For lack of a better word, this process sucks. Nobody enjoys going to court, and I cannot blame you.
The problem with a notice to appear is that it gives some people the false impression that their petit theft criminal charge isn’t that big of a deal–after all, you weren’t arrested. A notice to appear is an odd thing because, right now, for example, I have several clients who were caught shoplifting through the self checkout lanes at Walmart. And you can have two clients who are each accused of stealing, say, $75 worth of items, yet one person was given a notice to appear and the other client was handcuffed, forced into the back of a patrol car, and spent the night in jail. I have my theories on why some folks are arrested while others are not, but that’s a topic for another day.
Here’s a bit of interesting news about your notice to appear. This document officially begins your criminal history, if you didn’t already have one. In a background check, the date of the incident will be deemed your “arrest date,” and shows up on your criminal background check as an “arrest” even though you never went to jail. At the risk of sounding redundant, here, this theft charge will now be online for everyone to see–your employer can see it, your neighbors can see it, old friends and family can see it, if you’re single and dating, those folks are going to see this arrest too. It’s officially “out there.”
The good news is, we can erase this mess later, so don’t beat yourself up too much over this. One common question I get on notices to appear is the obvious–what do I do next? Well, I know this is going to sound a little like asking a barber if you need a haircut, but I recommend getting an attorney. Theft charges are serious, even first offenses. A defense attorney can get you into a diversion program, for example, and these programs get your case dismissed if you’re a first offender.
After that, we can erase everything. Often, when you get an attorney, you don’t even need to show up in court, your attorney can handle all or most of the court dates for you. If you don’t get an attorney, you must show up to court on the date of the notice to appear to face that judge and prosecutor. The government is not your friend, do not trust the government to help you through this ordeal–get a good local attorney and everything will be just fine. Good luck, and thanks for watching.