Every day in the courthouse I see young adults with no criminal record taking plea deals on misdemeanor theft cases. The problem is, they are not protecting their future. In my opinion, theft is the absolute worst type of misdemeanor you can have on your record. No one is ever going to want to hire someone who they think is a thief. For some reason, many people do not understand this, or are not given good advice.
Typically on theft cases in Harris County you will have 4 options. Option number 1 is a jury trial. Everyone has the right to fight their case and have a jury trial. Unfortunately, many of these cases are not easy to defend as the typical situation involves someone shoplifting on camera from a major retailer, and getting caught with the merchandise outside of the store. So in this type of situation many times it is best to try to reach a plea deal.
The next option is the best option and that is a Pre-Trial Diversion. A Pre-Trial Diversion is a 6 month program in Harris County where your court date is reset for 6 months. During that time (while your case is still pending), you complete what is essentially conditions similar to a probation. Requirements usually include the completion of an anti-theft class, community service, random drug tests, a fine, monthly meetings. At the completion of the program, if the individual successfully completes it, the case is dismissed. This is a true dismissal that is eventually eligible for expunction, which is a destruction of the records.
If for some reason you are not accepted into the pre-trial diversion program, deferred adjudication is the next best option. This can be anywhere from 6-12 months depending on the court and prosecutor. The difference with deferred is you actually plead guilty, and the case ends. You then start probation, which has similar conditions as above. If you finish deferred adjudication successfully you will avoid a conviction on your record. The problem with deferred adjudication is that your arrest record is still visible. If someone pulls a background check on you, and they see you were on deferred adjudication they are going to know that you pled guilty. The only reason you avoided a conviction was because of probation. Jobs, apartments, schools, etc will still hold that against you. To remedy this you can partially seal your record through a petition for non-disclosure (which you can read about in my past blogs), but this only partially seals your record.
The worst option of the bunch is sitting it out in jail or simply paying a fine. Both of those require guilty pleas, and are lifetime convictions that you can NEVER take off of your record. So you will basically be having to explain this every single time you apply for a job for the rest of your life (if you even get an interview). Too many people take this option because it’s the easy way out. They are told, “pay $300 and it’s over with, no probation”. But it is horrible for you! Protect your future!