What Happens In The First Court Appearance On A Theft Charge?
In the initial appearance, typically, release conditions are going to be set. So whether or not a bond will be imposed, whether or not you remain in custody, whether or not electronic monitoring is going to be required, whether your travel is going to be restricted or whether your living situation is going to change, the baseline is going to be set at that initial appearance. From there, a further court date will be set, usually an arraignment or some type of status conference where the negotiations for how to resolve the case will start to begin, and the discovery process where the state provides information to the defense attorney will also begin.
What Does The Prosecution Have To Prove In A Theft Case?
A lot of the times in these cases, it’s going to come down to intent. So, what is in the mind of the accused and intent in Arizona usually fall into one of three categories. The first is that you intentionally did something, which you purposely set out to do it. Or at some point, you became aware of the actions you were taking and the illegality of them. Or you recklessly did something and disregarded the risk that what you were doing essentially was illegal.
Those are the levels, all the way from intentional to knowingly to recklessly, that the state is working with, and in theft cases, so much of it just depends on what was in the mind of the person. Did they know they were taking something without permission, did they know they were walking to the point of purchase without making any intent to pay, at any point did they have the intent to pay, was it truly a forgetful moment, or was it intentional and an attempt to try to avoid payment?
A lot of theft cases, even as you get up into the higher white collar crimes of theft, such as fraud or embezzlement, are really going to be mostly based on the mind of the accused. This includes what they were doing, what actions are on record that support the intent that the state is accusing them of, and what actions or steps did they take from a defense standpoint that show that the intent wasn’t there, and, in fact, it wasn’t the intended outcome or was a mistake or misperception type of situation.
What Are The Sentencing Guidelines For Theft In Arizona?
For misdemeanor thefts, such as shoplifting, we are usually looking at a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is the highest form of misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are Class 1 down to Class 3; typically, thefts and shopliftings are classified as Class I, and they do have lower levels, but in Class I, probation is a possible punishment, with fines upwards of $2,500, plus surcharges and restitution to pay back the victim. If the property is recovered, in return, that can satisfy the loss; but if it was already transferred, damaged or disappeared, then you’re going to have to pay the person back for their loss.
Up to six months in jail is the punishment for a Class I misdemeanor, and fortunately, here in Arizona, especially with shoplifting, a lot of the city and municipal courts will do diversion programs for first time shoplifters because they do recognize that a lot of people actually have a shoplifting problem or a kleptomania type of issue, and it’s not really about trying to just get something from someone for free. So, they’ll do programs to help those people, and you’ll be able to get those charges dismissed. But if you continue to offend, then all of those penalties are going to be available.
When it comes to felony types of theft and organized retail theft, these are Class IV felonies. You go up from shoplifting as a Class I misdemeanor and jump a couple of levels because felonies are the highest levels. They may go from Class I, like murder, all the way down to Class VI, which would be a low-level felony. Organized retail theft jumps you from shoplifting at a misdemeanor all the way up to a Class IV. Perhaps for felony for a first time offender, you could get either probation, a year in jail or a year in prison, and a presumptive term on a Class IV felony is 2-1/2 years. If you have prior felony convictions, it can make a Class IV felony much more serious. With one prior, it jumps up to a presumptive term of 4-1/2 years.
This can have very serious consequences. I had a colleague who represented an individual with an organized retail theft charge, but at the end of the day, he had basically just stolen a bottle of tequila from a grocery store; but because he stuck it in a bag, that was the artifice and raised it up to the felony level. Because he had priors, he was actually looking at 10 years in prison for stealing a bottle of tequila. Arizona law is harsh enough on the upfront sentencing. If you have prior convictions, it gets worse and worse with each subsequent prior conviction, as long as they are eligible, to enhance your sentence. It could be really harsh disproportionately, depending on what the criminal history of the individual is as well.
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