Question:  I recently received a citation with a violation of "theft under $50′.

The police officer advised me to go to court and appear before the judge and pay the fine.  However I am not sure if I pay my fine, will my background check always reveal this offense?

How can I go about getting this erased from my records? Should I plead Not Guilty?

Answer: I feel obligated to mention that the police officer should not be giving advice of this sort to people he writes citations (or anyone else for that matter). Nothing will come of that though, so on to your real questions…

Should I plead ‘Not Guilty’? Absolutely. “Just” paying the fine, as the officer advised you, is a plea of guilty or no contest, and will result in a permanent criminal conviction for theft on your record forever.

A conviction for theft is a ‘crime involving moral turpitude’…meaning basically that you are being convicted of something that labels you as either (1) a bad person or (2) a person who did a bad thing, depending on who is doing the defining. (I, however, am a criminal defense attorney, and not one given to making moral judgments about other people, so you’re going to have to try a lot harder than Class C Theft to offend me.)

If you enter a plea of Not Guilty, however, you will probably be given the opportunity to enter into a deferred disposition, jump through some hoops, and get the case dismissed. Successful completion of a Class C deferred will then entitle you to expunge the offense from your record – although, recent caselaw indicates that you may have to wait 2 years to do so. Still, no conviction, and an expunction in two years is better than a theft conviction on your record for life.

Finally, what do I mean by “jump through some hoops”? Well, deferred dispositions in Theft cases usually require you to pay a fine, take a shoplifting class, maybe do some community service, and promise to stay out of trouble for up to 6 months.  The exact terms vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.