Coerced into accepting a plea agreement…

Question: I have been forced to sign a plea agreement. I have not been shown evidence of any kind. No police report or video. What can I do now?

Ryan’s Answer: For a valid guilty plea, it must be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. This means that you must be of a clear mind; that you have not been coerced, forced, or the victim of any false promises; and that you have read, understand, and agree with the contents of the plea. No court or judge should accept any plea agreement that is not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered by the defendant. So, what did you sign? Who presented it? How were you “forced” to sign it (quoting your question)? Signing a plea is not enough; you have to go in front of a judge.

Have you done that? You have the right to hire a criminal defense lawyer to assist you in reviewing the substance and procedure behind this plea agreement, to ensure that your constitutional rights are not being violated.

So you got busted for shoplifting…

Question: What are the fines and punishment for shoplifting? What if I have a prior drug paraphernalia conviction, is this still a first-time offense? Is shoplifting a felony or a misdemeanor? Help!

Ryan’s Answer: First, it’s important to know that shoplifting
can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on certain factors. Here’s the rundown for you:

Felonies

  • If the value of the shoplifted property is $2,000 or more, it’s a class 5 felony.
  • If the shoplifting was done to “promote, further or assist any criminal street gang,” it’s a class 5 felony. Shoplifting property with a value of $1,000 to $2,000 is a class 6 felony.
  • Shoplifting a firearm is generally a class 6 felony, regardless of value.
  • If you use an artifice, instrument, container, device or other article with the intent to facilitate shoplifting, it’s a class 4 felony.
  • If you commit shoplifting and have previously committed or been convicted within the past 5 years of 2 or more offenses involving burglary, shoplifting, robbery, organized retail theft or theft, it’s a class 4 felony.

Misdemeanor

Shoplifting property valued at less than $1,000 is a class 1 misdemeanor.

First Time Shoplifting

Yes this is a “first time” shoplifting offense, if all you have is a prior drug paraphernalia conviction. Just be aware that if you have committed burglary, shoplifting, robbery, organized retail theft or theft, within the past 5 years, then it’s not a first time offense.

Fines and Jail

Punishment obviously depends on whether it’s a felony (and what class) or whether it’s a misdemeanor.

A typical run-of-the-mill first-time shoplifting, under $1,000, class 1 misdemeanor, can have fines up to $2,500 (plus surcharge) and up to 6 months jail, in addition to paying restitution. Sentencing, however, depends on many factors, and a lawyer can help you

You have the right to hire an attorney to defend you whether it’s a misdemeanor or felony case. This was just a summary of relevant information. There’s more information you may need, but I hope what I’ve laid out for you is educational.

Felony on your record…

Question: I have an old felony conviction on my record. It might be a misdemeanor, but I think it’s a felony conviction. And I successfully completed probation. Am I stuck with this felony conviction forever? I can’t get a job even though I’ve had no police contact in a decade! What do I do?

Ryan’s Answer: Even if your conviction is an Arizona felony, you can still file an application to set aside the judgment pursuant to A.R.S. 13-907. Upon receiving your written application, a court can, but is not required to, “set aside” your judgment of guilt. If the court agrees to grant your application, according to Arizona law, the judge shall set aside the actual judgment of guilt, dimiss the accusations or information and order that you be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the conviction, with some specific exceptions.

If you succeed on your application, you can ask the court to notify the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) at their Criminal History Records Division, to inform them of the fact that your judgment of guilt was set aside. Ideally, your Arizona criminal history can then be amended to reflect the setting aside of your conviction, which may help your chances at finding employment. You can also petition the U.S. Department of Justice for an amendment to your National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) record.

If your conviction is already a misdemeanor, you can still ask that it be set aside.

You have the right to hire an attorney to complete this process on your behalf.

Pre-Trial Services…

So you’re on Pre-Trial Services (PTS) release, under their supervision while your csae is pending (i.e., you have been charged and are awaiting trial), and you have to take submit random urinalyses (UA’s). You relapse, let’s say, and end up with 3 “dirty” UA’s, which your PTS officer finds out about. You check yourself into rehab where you hope the police will not arrest you. What happens now?

The fact that you had 3 “dirty” UA’s while on PTS release is a little more serious than just having one. Your PTS officer has the discretion to file a non-compliance report to the judge, who then can find that you violated your release conditions and must be taken into custody while your case is pending. That’s just one possibility.

And unfortunately, while at rehab, you are not insulated from arrest. Hopefully, voluntarily entering rehab will show your PTS officer, the judge, and even the prosecutor that you are taking the initiative to get clean. No matter what, stay in touch with your PTS officer as required and always comply with every release condition. If you don’t give them any more reasons to file a non-compliance report, you may luck out. And it sounds like rehab may be appropriate for you. Remember, rehab only works if you put in the effort, so don’t give up on yourself.

Arizona Traffic Complaint – When you miss a hearing date…

Arizona Traffic Ticket Question: I was pulled over for a secondary offense of failure to wear a seat belt in Arizona, and I was given an Arizona traffic complaint with a court date. I went on vacation and forgot about my hearing. What happens now? Can I still challenge the illegal traffic ticket?

Ryan’s Answer: First, you are right that failure to wear a seatbelt is a secondary enforcement law. If you were only pulled over and cited for a violation of A.R.S. 28-909, in terms of that being considered a secondary enforcement law, section 28-909(C) states: “A peace officer shall not stop or issue a citation to a person operating a motor vehicle on a highway in this state for a violation of this section unless the peace officer has reasonable cause to believe there is another alleged violation of a motor vehicle law of this state.” With that in mind, make sure the officer did not indicate any other reason for pulling you over, and if not, then you may have a strong case.

Second, unfortunately, it is likely too late for you to fight your charge in traffic court. There is a traffic court rule that says where a defendant fails to appear as required, the allegations of the complaint shall be deemed admitted, and the court shall enter a judgment for the prosecution, impose a civil sanction, and report the judgment to the Department of Transportation. Therefore, you should call the court where you were told to appear, advise them that you unintentionally missed your court date, and ask what happened with your case. If they continued it (i.e., moved it to to a new date), you may still have a shot. But they most likely entered judgment against you. On the upside, the fine for a seat belt violation is not very high.

Third, even though you probably “lost” your case in traffic court by failing to appear, there is an appeal process in the civil traffic rules. Be careful, you only have 14 days after the judgment was entered to file a notice of appeal. To ensure your appeal is correctly filed in accordance with statutes and rules, it is advisable that you speak with an attorney.