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Kids and teenagers can find themselves in all kinds of trouble. Hopefully, most of it will be of the harmless variety. But even some small crimes with no apparent victim can be a big deal for minors and their future.
Take petty theft, for example. So named after the French word petit, meaning small, it refers to thefts of property having a relatively low dollar value. While it may not sound like a big deal, this small crime can have lasting consequences for minors, and should not be taken lightly.
While state larceny and theft laws can vary, theft statutes are often split into petty theft and grand theft. Petty thefts are typically defined as thefts below a specified dollar amount, generally less than $500 or $1,000. Most petty thefts are categorized as misdemeanors, meaning a person convicted of petty theft could face up to a year in jail. But these penalties are normally just for a first petty theft conviction -- repeat offenders can be subject to harsher punishments.
Along with possible jail time, most petty theft convictions will result in fines as well. And many states require petty theft offenders to pay restitution, meaning they will have to compensate the victim for the value or amount stolen. You may not have stolen much, but between restitution, fines, jail time, and an addition to your criminal record, a petty theft conviction can be costly.
Of course, if the defendant is a minor or a juvenile, things could be different. On the one hand, prosecutors are often more lenient with juveniles, and may be more willing to plea bargain to a lesser charge or even a suspended sentence where, as long as the minor stays out of trouble and maybe does some community service, the charges will be dropped. And juvenile offenders often have the option of having their criminal records sealed or expunged.
On the other hand, juveniles often don't have the same constitutional protections as adult offenders, like a guarantee of a jury trial. And starting a criminal record when you're underage, even if it's not publicly available, doesn't bode well if the minor ever gets in trouble again.
Despite the name, petty thefts are serious business. If you've been charged with petty theft, especially as a minor, get help from an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.