If you think of shoplifting as a harmless prank or minor offense, think again.
There are very serious consequences for retail theft in New Jersey. Beyond the potential jail time, fines, and probation, you may face even more sanctions and consequences for a conviction.
Shoplifting laws in New Jersey cover a wider range of acts than you might expect. Your conduct may result in a crime under the statute, even when you think you did nothing wrong.
Remember that you always have the right to fight these charges in court, and let a New Jersey criminal defense attorney help you.
Here is a quick summary of the laws, potential punishments, and strategies for protecting your rights in a shoplifting case.
Acts That May Constitute Shoplifting
You may think that New Jersey’s shoplifting laws only cover situations where you take an item off a store shelf, put it in your pocket, and walk out. However, there are many other forms of misconduct that could lead to an arrest, including:
- Any act of depriving the merchant of the possession, value, or benefit of merchandise;
- Concealing a product on your person or other location, which is for sale to other store customers;
- Removing, altering, or transferring a label that shows price or other data used to determine the value of merchandise—then trying to buy the item for less than the established value;
- Taking an item from its display and moving it to another area that shows a different price and deprives the merchant of its assigned value;
- Allowing or causing a person to “under-ring” merchandise to deprive the merchant of the full value; and,
- Removing a shopping cart from a store’s property, knowing that you were leaving the merchant without the use and benefit of it.
Under shoplifting laws in New Jersey, stores, their employees, and security guards can detain people suspected of shoplifting. All they need to do so is probable cause, which means that they need evidence to convince others that you are shoplifting. From there, store employees can hold you under reasonable circumstances. Three factors may be relevant:
- The length of time you’re held;
- The space where you’re detained; and,
- Whether force was used to detain you.
Any extremes with these factors could result in legal action. This could be a defense to shoplifting charges or a civil suit for false imprisonment and/or wrongful arrest.
Shoplifting Grades and Penalties
Charges relating to shoplifting proceed according to the value of the merchandise:
- You face a Disorderly Persons Offense if the items are under $200. If convicted, you could receive up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
- It’s a Fourth Degree Crime if the merchandise has value of $200 – $500. A judge may sentence up to 18 months of jail time and a fine of $10,000.
- The charges may be Third Degree Crime for products ranging from $500 – $75,000. This could lead to 3-5 years in prison and a fine of $15,000.
- You face Second Degree Crime charges if the retail value of the merchandise exceeds $75,000. For a conviction, you face at least five years in prison and up to 10 years’ jail time. You could also receive a fine of up to $150,000.
Besides these sanctions, there are other implications for a shoplifting conviction. Theft crimes generally allow a judge to order restitution. This means you must pay back the merchant (the victim) that you shoplifted from. You’ll also be responsible for paying interest on the merchandise and court costs. There are collateral consequences to consider as well, since you’ll have a criminal conviction on your record. You could experience employment difficulties and other situations that need background checks.
Defenses to Shoplifting Charges
Despite the strict laws on retail theft, there may be strategies to fight the charges if you’re arrested. In any criminal case the prosecution must prove that you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Without witnesses, the case can be difficult for a prosecutor to prove. The state may rely on security camera footage, so it may be possible to attack this evidence if it’s unclear or grainy.
The prosecutor must also show intent – i.e., that you stole merchandise. It’s easy to pick up an item when you’re in a store and carry it around; you could forget that you’re even holding it. Under these circumstances, you probably didn’t mean to engage in retail theft.
When you want to defend shoplifting charges, you must have solid legal counsel. You might be facing jail time, fines, restitution, and even more consequences. An attorney can help by proving weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case and presenting evidence to defend you. In some cases, it may be possible to work out a plea bargain to reduce the charges.
Contact a New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer for Legal Help
If you were arrested for shoplifting in New Jersey, legal representation is critical. Unless you have a legal background, you put your rights at risk if you try to handle the charges yourself.
For more information on shoplifting laws and defenses, please contact the Law Offices of Anthony J. Vecchio, LLC to set up a consultation.
Our firm has five offices serving clients throughout New Jersey, and we are always prepared to tackle challenges in all types of criminal cases.