I was recently asked, by email, should a person with no record get a lawyer to represent them in a shoplifting case.
There are two parts to most shoplifting cases. The shoplifting charge which is criminal in nature where your liberty and your wallet are at stake, and the civil penalty the law allows for where again your wallet is at stake. The Civil penalty is something lawmakers have given to shopkeepers to permit them to spread the cost of maintaining security across the group of people it catches. Paying, in my experience has had no affect whatsoever on how a prosecutor will deal out the case, nor, even though their demand letters may imply differently, will it keep a victim shopkeeper from showing up to testify against the defendant.
Even if a person has no record, generally prosecutors in Alabama will not deal with you. If you don’t mind having a shoplifting charge on your record, which you will have to explain every time any potential employer runs a background check on you, you definitely will want to hire a lawyer to investigate the facts of your case or to work out some sort of plea agreement. For first offenders these generally involve the kind of probation that results in no record when the probation is complete and some sort of shoplifting program. Qualifying for this option is not always a certainty. An attorney will have a much better opportunity when dealing with the prosecutor to make sure this option is available. Since most people do not want a charge that brands them a thief on their record I would strongly recommend getting a lawyer to examine the evidence against you and use whatever is there to get you the best result possible.
As for dealing with a shoplifting case where the defendant has prior shoplifting offenses, you should absolutely hire an attorney. I have seen instances where a defendant with a prior charge can spend from 5 days to 120 days in jail.