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Charged for Theft Under $500 -- Do You Need a Lawyer?

By Molly Zilli, Esq. | Last updated on

Whether you stole a t-shirt from Target or a couple wireless headphones from the mall, theft is not a crime to take lightly. Even if you're charged for theft under $500, you still need a lawyer. The state will be represented by a prosecuting attorney, so shouldn't you have representation, too?

A lawyer will know how to argue for leniency, obtain the lowest possible sentence, or even a dismissal of the charges. So, whether this is your first run-in with the law, or you're a full-fledged kleptomaniac, an attorney can help guard your interests and protect your rights.

Petty Theft or Felony?

The dollar value of the item you stole usually determines whether your crime is considered a misdemeanor ("petty" or "petit" theft in some states) or a felony ("grand theft"). Furthermore, the amount that marks that determination varies by state. In Alabama, anything over $500 is a felony. In Texas, it's $1,500, but there are different levels of misdemeanors below that amount.

Understanding what crime you're charged with is important because that will determine what kind of sentencing you'll be facing. It could also have serious consequences for future employment or your immigration status.

Sentencing Varies With Judge and State Law

Although there are sentencing guidelines, judges often have a lot of discretion when it comes to doling out punishment. They can consider mitigating factors, like whether or not this is your first offense. They can also consider negative factors, like your history of crime, lack of remorse, or the manner in which you stole.

The judge may also have to take into consideration state recidivism laws. For example, California imposes harsher sentences for repeat felony offenders under their three strikes law.

How Much Does a Lawyer Cost?

The cost of hiring a lawyer mostly depends on the lawyer and the complexity of your case. Typically, a lawyer with more experience can charge more, and a case that's very complex will require more man hours and therefore more money. Luckily, if you're charged for theft of under $500, it's probably a more straightforward case and shouldn't cost too much.

It's also important to note that if you're charged with a crime but are unable to afford an attorney, you may be eligible for representation from the public defender's office. Although they are stretched very thin, they have plenty of experience dealing with theft charges.

So, whether you're accused of stealing $50, $500, or $50,000, be sure to better protect your rights and your future by hiring an attorney to defend you in court.

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