NEW JERSEY SHOPLIFTING LAW
A shoplifting conviction in New Jersey can result in serious consequences, including jail and a criminal record.
Although shoplifting is actually a theft, it is treated separately in New Jersey, as distinct criminal offense, and can impose more severe penalties. Some believe this is due to the political power of the Retailers in New Jersey.
TYPES OF SHOPLIFTING (N.J.S.A. 2C:20-11)
Essentially, under the statutes, there are five different types of shoplifting:
a. A person takes merchandise from a store, with the intent of depriving the store owner of the product(s) without payment.
b. A person conceals merchandise, with the intent of depriving the store owner of the product(s) without payment, such as placing the product(s) in a purse, bag, pocket. In New Jersey, if a person purposely conceals merchandise that has not been paid for, it is presumed that they concealed it with the intent of depriving the store owner of the product(s) without payment.
c. A person alters, transfers or removes a price tag or label, with the intent of depriving the store owner of the product(s) without proper payment, such as switching price tags, using a fake price tag, or anything that would change the price tab or label to reflect a price different from the true price.
d. A person transfers merchandise to a different container, with the intent of depriving the store owner of the product(s) without proper payment, such as placing a more expensive product in the box of a lower priced product.
e. A person, usually an employee, under-rings the value of the merchandise, with the intent of depriving the store owner of the product(s) without proper payment, such as ringing up less expensive merchandise in lieu of the the actual merchandise, or simply not ringing up all of the merchandise that is presented for purchase.
PENALTIES FOR SHOPLIFTING
The value of the merchandise taken, or which was attempted to be taken, determines the potential penalties. If the merchandise is valued at $200.00 or less, it is considered a Disorderly Persons Offense, that can result in the following penalties:
a. fines and restitution;
b. 6 months in jail, community service, probation;
c. driver license suspension;
d. forfeiture of public office
e. possible effects on immigration status.
*Disorderly Persons Offenses are generally handled in the Municipal Court of the town in which the shoplifting occurred.
If value of the merchandise taken, or which was attempted to be taken, is valued at $200.00 or more it is considered an Indictable Crime, and the more expensive the merchandise taken, or which was attempted to be taken, the more severe the possible penalties, either as a Second, Third Degree or Fourth Crime.
Fourth Degree - up to 18 mos. in jail
Third Degree - up to 5 years in jail
Second Degree - up to 10 years in jail
* Indictable Crimes are handled in the Superior Court of the county in which the shoplifting occurred.
**Even though a person always faces the possibility of jail for a shoplifting conviction, based upon the judge's discretion, unlike other offenses or crimes, a third conviction for shoplifting requires a mandatory jail term of 90 days in the county jail, and the judge must impose at least that amount. This means that no matter how long ago your previous two convictions were, you will be sentenced to jail for a third conviction.
AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES (DON'T TURN THIS SHOPLIFTING INTO A ROBBERY)
A simple Disorderly Persons shoplifting charge can easily become the Indictable Crime of Robbery (N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1), with a penalty of up to 10 years in jail, if the person attempting to take the merchandise even pushes or touches a store employee or security officer, while attempting to take the merchandise or leave the store.
OTHER PENALTIES (N.J.S.A. 2A:61C-1)
In addition to the severe criminal penalties faced by a person charged with shoplifting, the law allows the merchant to seek a civil penalty as well, up to $150.00 and damage for loss of property up to $500.00, as well attorneys fees if the merchant has to sue to recover the above penalties. The parents of a juvenile convicted of shoplifting are responsible for payment of these penalties.
CAN YOU WIN A SHOPLIFTING CASE?
The simple answer is YES. For first time offenders, a person may be eligible for a "Diversionary Program" such as a "Conditional Dismissal" in the Municipal Court, or entry in the "Pre-trial Intervention Program" in the Superior Court. Essentially, these programs are similar to probation, except your record will not reflect a conviction, if you compete the program, and you can answer "No" on any employment application that asks whether you were were convicted of a crime.
In addition, even if you are not eligible for a "Diversionary Program" there are a variety of elements and proof that a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to win a conviction fro shoplifting. If they fail to prove any one element, you must be found not guilty. Further, there are numerous defenses an attorney can raise on your behalf to avoid a conviction, or to arrange a favorable plea agreement with the prosecutor. Due to the potential severe penalties a person faces, as a result of a shoplifting conviction, it's best for them the consult with an experienced attorney.
I've handled hundreds of shoplifting cases throughout New Jersey. If you, someone you know or love has been charged with shoplifting, call my office for a free consultation, (856) 448-6200 , or Toll Free at (888) 641-3434