I have lost track of how many calls I have received from a frantic recent college graduate, who has just been fired from her new job, after the company obtained her criminal background check. The caller goes on to explain that she pled guilty to a retail theft while a student at Penn State. Usually, the item in question was valued at under $10. The caller goes on to say that a lady at the magisterial district court told her it was no big deal, it was "just like a traffic ticket," and if she pled guilty, there would just be a fine and court costs. (I use feminine prepositions here because retail theft is one of the only crimes, which females commit as often as, if not more often, than males).
The reality is that retail theft is not "just like a traffic ticket," and it is, in fact, "a big deal." A first offense retail theft is graded as a summary offense, as long as the value of the property taken in less than $150, however, not all summary offenses are created equally. All retail thefts are fingerprintable offenses, whether graded as a summary offense, misdemeanor or felony. This means that a retail theft conviction will appear on every type of criminal background check, even the types of criminal background checks, which would normally only bring up misdemeanor, felony or homicide charges.
The frustrating thing about this type of phone call is that the caller is now 22 years old and the retail theft occurred when she was 19. It is too late for me to help her avoid a conviction, and I will not be able to help her get it expunged from her record for another two years. In the mean time, she has lost her job before it even started, and the same issue is going to pop up when she tries to get any other white collar job. In fact, it is not just white collar jobs, which do background checks. You are not even going to get a job at Wal-Mart or Target with a shoplifting conviction on your record. Employee theft is a major problem at retail establishments, so retailers will not hire people who have a documented history of stealing.
If you are charged with retail theft, you should immediately contact an experienced, reputable, criminal defense attorney. In some cases, we can work out a resolution to the case, which does not result in a retail theft conviction. If you have already been convicted, then we can file a motion to expunge your conviction, as long as your conviction is at least five years old, and you have not been prosecuted for any new criminal offenses during the proceeding five years.
If you have questions about retail theft or any other criminal charges, call State College criminal defense attorney Matt McClenahen at (814) 308-0870.