Hiring An Attorney to Handle a Theft Charge: Is Jail a Consequence of a Misdemeanor Charge?

Interviewer: How about jail time and other penalties? How does that factor into these misdemeanor offenses and felony offenses, at this level?

Ladan Law: As far as misdemeanor offenses go, it’s fairly rare. For the first-time offender, it’s likely that there’s going to be a diversionary program, wherein, you’ll perform some community service hours and take a theft class and pay restitution, if the item was damaged or actually missing. Once that is completed, they’ll go ahead and dismiss the charges. That’s a good program and sometimes it requires a store’s approval.

That’s where I, as your attorney can be pretty successful in negotiating you into that program because my firm does the legwork of reaching out to the stores.

Is Jail a Consequence of a Felony Theft Charge?

As you move up the ladder in severity, into felonies, possibly, your chances get a little better to be sentenced to jail, even a first-time felony offense. It’s unlikely but, as the dollar amount is higher, and/or the number of prior offenses you have grows greater, you have an increased chance of a judge stepping in and intervening in your life with some jail time. That’s when it’s absolutely imperative that you hire an criminal defense lawyer that specializes in this area of defense.

Interviewer: That makes sense. What’s the focus of the stores that have to deal with the most thefts, such as the theme parks? They always say, “We’ll prosecute anybody to the fullest extent of the law.” They also have warning signs. Do they always try to prosecute theft crimes or are they more lenient and tolerant?

Most Establishment Will Opt for Diversionary Programs As Punishments

Ladan Law: In my experience, these large theme parks or large big-box stores are fairly in tune with the local prosecution methods of disposing of these cases. I have never had a retail store or a theme park tell me that a client couldn’t participate in diversion. They’re fairly cooperative, especially if the person is a first-time offender or visiting from out of state. They’re not really interested in getting their pound of flesh. They want to diffuse the situation and they certainly want shoplifters punished but I’ve never seen a particular store push for maximum jail time.

Do You Need An Attorney To Assist With Enrollment Into a Diversion Program?

Interviewer: How hard is it to be enrolled into the diversion programs? Is it very easy and are you able to enroll on your own? Or, do you want an attorney’s help?

Ladan Law: The diversion programs are discretionary and, by that I mean, that the State Attorney’s office gets to pick and choose which clients, if any, they would allow to participate in that program. That is one of the factors that people need to consider when hiring an attorney.

All of the attorneys in my law firm are former prosecutors. We do understand the process. We have a point of contact for the diversion program, at the State Attorney’s Office.

In some instances, we can make a call and try to negotiate for a client that possibly may not be accepted into the program anyway. That’s a benefit that we have that some other law firms don’t. Now, is it automatic? No. Is it fairly standard to be offered that? Fairly. It always makes good sense to have an attorney walk you into the program or walk you through the process because the State of Florida does not make that process particularly user-friendly.

Is Not Returning a Rental Car On Time a Crime?

Interviewer: We’ll discuss some high-level crimes. I had a question. I’ve heard that when people don’t return rental cars on time that can be considered a theft or a crime. In your area, with a high number of visiting tourists, does it ever come up? Is that an issue?

Ladan Law: It can and I have defended a few clients accused of not returning a rental car and they’ve been charged with many different types of theft-related offenses, usually felonies, for not getting the car back. As far as how the state attorney’s office views the issue, if you’re a day or two late, it’s very unlikely they will prosecute. If the car’s been missing for 60 days, it’s likely that you’re going to get charged with a felony.

It doesn’t happen as often as you would think here in Orlando but it does happen. We were successful in defending those clients by illustrating some particular issues.

Some people leave the car at the airport and make the assumption that the rental car service will be able to find that or they park it in the wrong area and the car sits there for several weeks. That has happened on occasion. There are some reasonable explanations for that kind of behavior but if the car goes missing for a long time, it’s very likely that a case is going to get filed.

If You Do Not Return the Rental Car, A Warrant Will Be Issued

When a felony case is filed in Florida, really, the only way to initiate that prosecution is by physical arrest. You won’t get a letter in the mail. You will get a warrant for your arrest and that has surprised a few tourists along the way, I am quite sure.

Interviewer: Are these people actually arrested in their home state or they just get a warrant through the mail with an order to appear?

Ladan Law: If the warrant goes out, and it’s a felony warrant, and there’s an order for extradition, yes. They can be stopped for a speeding ticket in another state, arrested on an outstanding Florida warrant, held and transported down to Florida. It has happened.

Author: Amir Ladan
A former assistant state attorney for Orange/Osceola Counties, Amir has handled thousands of cases and dozens of trials, ranging from DUI and traffic offenses to murder, in both adult and juvenile court.

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