If Amber Heard pleads guilty, she could avoid appearing in court and possible jail time, a legal expert tells PEOPLE

By Jodi Guglielmi
Updated July 17, 2015 09:00 PM
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Amber Heard might be able to make good on her promise to “avoid the Land Down Under,” despite her Aussie legal troubles.

The actress has been summoned to the Southport Magistrates Court in Queensland on Sept. 7 to answer for her alleged dog-smuggling crimes – but she could avoid the court appearance if she pleads guilty, according to a legal expert.

“An application may be made, if Ms. Heard intends to plead guilty to the offenses, to have the sentence determined in the absence of Ms. Heard,” says Peter Shields, a Queensland Law Society Criminal Law Committee chair who is not affiliated with the case.

Heard, who allegedly smuggled her two Yorkshire terriers (Pistol and Boo) into Australia with husband Johnny Depp in May, was charged with two counts of illegally importing the dogs and one count of producing a false document on Tuesday.

If found guilty, the actress could face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $75,000 fine for the alleged illegal importation – and a maximum one year in prison and $7,500 fine for the alleged false documentation, the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions confirmed to PEOPLE.

But according to Shields, Heard is unlikely to be sent to the slammer. She could get away with a fine if she enters a guilty plea.

“Persons who have pleaded guilty in similar cases receive a fine,” the legal pro says.

Heard and the Pirates of the Caribbean star, 52, came under fire after a dog groomer posted photos of the two pups on Facebook, revealing that they were in Australia.

“I would never have put the photo on Facebook unless I had permission,” Lianne Kent, owner of Happy Dogz pet groomers, told WHO Weekly.

Once it was discovered that the couple allegedly failed to declare the animals to customs authorities when they arrived in April, Aussie politician Barnaby Joyce gave them 72 hours to return the dogs to the U.S., and threatened to euthanize the dogs if orders were not followed.

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“I was so upset hearing that they were talking about putting the dogs down,” said Kent. “[Blame] shouldn’t have been pointed at me. It should have been pointed at Customs what the quarantine is … not at me simply for putting a photo on Facebook.”

The dogs were immediately put on a plane back to America, meeting the given time frame.

Depp has not publicly commented on the matter, but last month, Heard told Australia’s Channel 7 News, “I have a feeling we’re going to avoid the land Down Under from now on, just as much as we can, thanks to certain politicians there. I don’t know, I guess everybody goes for their 15 minutes, including some government officials.”