The crime of shoplifting is one that many may think of as minor. While the action of shoplifting in itself might not be very harmful to others, the effects and consequences of a shoplifting conviction can most certainly be to the person charged. A variety of different activities can be deemed as shoplifting under New Jersey law. If you are facing a shoplifting accusation in New Jersey, then it is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney to help guide you.
What is Shoplifting?
Shoplifting is most commonly thought of as stealing something from a store without paying for it. Now, in a general sense, this is true under New Jersey law as well. The common element necessary for a shoplifting charge across all New Jersey shoplifting laws is that the item(s) were taken from a merchant that was offering the items for sale. If the items that are alleged to have been stolen were not taken from a merchant who was offering them for sale, then that would not constitute the offense of shoplifting in New Jersey. In this scenario, a different type of theft charge would likely be more appropriate under New Jersey law.
What are the New Jersey Laws?
There are several laws in New Jersey that relate to theft. Depending on the alleged actions of an individual, one of many different theft-related offenses can be charged. In New Jersey, the laws against shoplifting are specific. New Jersey Statutes 2C:20-11 is the main criminal statute that outlines the laws against shoplifting. The New Jersey shoplifting laws are further broken into six main categories of activity, they include:
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:20-11(b)(1): This law prohibits the theft of any merchandise displayed, held, stored, or offered for sale by a store of any kind. The merchandise is not required to be offered for sale to constitute the crime of shoplifting under New Jersey law. The value of the merchandise alleged to have been stolen will determine the seriousness of the shoplifting offense charged.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:20-11(b)(2): This law prohibits an individual from purposely hiding merchandise that he or she intends to steal. Under this provision, you don't actually have to leave the store with the merchandise to be charged with shoplifting.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:20-11(b)(3): This law prohibits anyone from altering or removing a price tag from merchandise with the intent to pay less for the merchandise than was on the original price tag.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:20-11(b)(4): This law prohibits anyone from purposely concealing merchandise in a container and attempting to move it with the intent to permanently deprive the merchant of the merchandise.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:20-11(b)(5): This law prohibits purposely under-ringing an item so the merchant is deprived of the full value of the merchandise offered for sale.
- New Jersey Statutes 2C:20-11(b)(6): This law prohibits taking a shopping cart from a merchant without permission and with the intent to permanently deprive the merchant of the shopping cart.
As you can see, there are several types of activities that meet the criteria for a shoplifting charge under New Jersey law. If you are charged with any of the offenses above, then you can face significant consequences if you are convicted.
What are the Potential Penalties for a Shoplifting Charge?
The penalties for a shoplifting charge are largely determined by the value of the items alleged to have been shoplifted. In New Jersey, criminal felony charges are broken into four degrees of severity, and misdemeanor charges are charged as disorderly persons offenses. First-degree offenses are considered the most serious, but no shoplifting charges can be charged as a first-degree offense. A shoplifting offense can be charged as a:
- Second-degree offense: A shoplifting is a second-degree offense if the value of the items stolen was $75,000 or more. There is a presumption of incarceration, and if you are convicted of a second-degree offense, then you can face 5-10 years in prison. Second-degree offenses also carry potential fines that can be as high as $150,000.
- Third-degree offense: A shoplifting is a third-degree offense if the value of the items stolen was more than $500 but less than $75,000. There is no presumption of incarceration as outlined for first- and second-degree offenses, but you can still face 3-5 years in prison if you are convicted. Third-degree offenses also carry potential fines that can be as high as $15,000.
- Fourth-degree offense: A shoplifting is a fourth-degree offense if the value of the items stolen was more than $200 but less than $500. There is no presumption of incarceration as outlines for first- and second-degree offenses, you can still face up to 18 months in prison if you are convicted. Fourth-degree offenses also carry potential fines that can be as high as $10,000.
- Disorderly persons offense: A shoplifting is a disorderly persons offense if the value of the items stolen was less than $200. A conviction can result in up to 6 months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
If you are alleged to have been a part of a shoplifting enterprise with another person, then your charge can be enhanced without the value requirements listed above.
Collateral Consequences of a Shoplifting Conviction
Along with the consequences that a judge can order to punish someone for shoplifting, a shoplifting conviction can have several lasting effects. Having a felony conviction for shoplifting can prevent you from getting jobs, an apartment, and even government financing. In New Jersey, you also cannot exercise your right to vote until all of your felony conditions are completed. You may also run into immigration problems and may be precluded from enlisting in the United States Military.
What are the Potential Defenses to a Shoplifting Charge?
For a prosecutor to be successful in a shoplifting prosecution, the main thing that they will have to prove is a criminal intent to steal. If it is not proven that you had a criminal intent to steal, then you can be properly acquitted of your shoplifting charge. If, for example, you placed an item in the bottom part of your shopping cart, meant to pay for it but simply forgot, then you did not have the necessary criminal intent to steal. You may have also placed an item in a bag you were carrying, and never intended to leave the store without paying for it. There are several defenses that might be available to you in your shoplifting case depending on the facts and circumstances.
The Potential of Pre-Trial Intervention for a Shoplifting Charge
If your shoplifting charge is a third- or fourth-degree offense, then you might have the option of pre-trial intervention to resolve your case. If you are accepted into pre-trial intervention, then at the end of your probationary period, your shoplifting charges will be dismissed altogether. Pre-trial intervention is available to first-time nonviolent individuals who are charged with lower-level criminal offenses. Pre-trial intervention can last up to three years, and you will likely be required to report to a probation agent who will report your progress to the judge. Your request for pre-trial intervention must be made in writing within 28 days of being charged. If you are denied pre-trial intervention, then you can appeal to a superior court judge.
How an Attorney Can Help with a Shoplifting Charge
The first thing an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you with is assessing your case's strengths and weaknesses. If you have a viable defense, then your attorney can explore the possibilities and strength of that defense or other potential defenses. If the police illegally obtained evidence against you, then your attorney can file a motion to exclude this evidence to have a judge decide whether to keep the evidence in the case. If you are simply being wrongly accused, then your attorney can help you devise the best strategy to help put you in the best position to succeed. It is important to understand all of the parameters of your case so you can make a confident and sound decision on how you will proceed with your case. If you have legal questions, then the attorneys at the Lento Law Firm are standing by to help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you are facing a criminal charge related to an act of shoplifting in New Jersey, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Shoplifting charges can vary greatly, as can the potential punishment. Understanding the parameters of your shoplifting charge is essential to formulating the appropriate defense strategy. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the required experience and proficiency that you need to help you find success defending your charge. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice to help you fight your shoplifting charge, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.